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Reviews in Retrospect: Blue Valentine

A contemporary romance-in-reverse that meditates on the mystery of relationships.

Blue valentine film

Blue Valentine premiered at Sundance Festival in 2010. Almost a documentary in style and 12 years in the making, this story was born of the experiences of the director, Derek Cianfrance, of his own parents’ divorce.

The narrative begins with Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) meeting and falling in love. Their initially perfect on-screen connection drives a story in which this utterly—and, at times, painfully—credible portrayal of a relationship moves from the sphere of romance to one of disillusionment. The question as to whether they can be together in the realm of realism becomes the substance of the couple’s later dialogue and, ultimately, is left open.

The early scenes of their relationship are shot in close-up using a handheld Super 16mm camera, enabling moments of intimacy and spontaneity to be caught. In the later years of their relationship, each scene is shot with a different long lens camera to reflect a sense of increasing distance between the pair.

The notion of inhabited space plays out metaphorically through the film as we watch their relationship progress (“Where are we now?”), taking a literal form through depictions of the claustrophobic home they both live in. The latter is framed arguably in terms of the haunted house of the horror genre - that is, a structure within which familiarity and extreme anxiety come together.

In Blue Valentine, Cindy and Dean’s home is indeed haunted by memories of the past. Their over-familiar routines hold no security, but instead an anxiety that something unwelcome and unpredictable is about to happen.

Gosling and Williams lived on location in their ‘home’ for a month before shooting. This manifests on-screen in the two actors’ knowledge of and familiarity with each other. The resulting muscle memory is seen to be both a blessing and a curse for Cindy and Dean.

Dean vocalises his sense of feeling trapped as the couple arrive in ‘The Future Room’. In a scene that is heavy with metaphor, the couple attempt to recreate their past romance and both actors give powerful performances as Cindy and Dean, as they come to realise the impossibility of doing so.

Though I put my hands together in acknowledgement of the strong supporting cast, praise in particular is awarded to Cindy’s grandmother (the late Jen Jones), her father (John Doman) and the removal firm packer (Charlie Westbrook), all of whose performances populate a past or present narrative and provide excellent support for the leads.

A final nod must go to Faith Wladyka. In her role as Frankie she is the first on camera. Her innocence and optimism while searching for a lost dog evoke a sense of longing for lost attachment. It’s with such a possibility of hope that Blue Valentine begins and ends.

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