Derek Cianfrance’s extraordinary feature debut is an exceptional and brutal piece of filmmaking
Ten years in the making, Derek Cianfrance’s extraordinary feature film debut, which can be best described as a marital cautionary tale, draws from the very best of the American independent inheritance (the uncompromising work of John Cassavetes being a clear reference point). The narrative centres on the heady intoxication of initial romance and the excruciating final days of a marriage in inexorable decline; ‘hellish’ is too meek a word to describe the emotional abuse and neglect that Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) visit upon one another.
Visually striking and beautifully edited, this film nonetheless belongs wholly to the two lead actors who deliver performances of such commitment and intensity that certain moments verge on being not merely uncomfortable, but unwatchable. Gosling, in particular, demonstrates once again (see his astonishing work in Half Nelson from 2006) that he is capable of anything given the right material: in the latter section of the film, his entire comportment evidences a man left disappointed, strained and weary from the sheer effort put into sustaining his love for a woman who has grown to be completely indifferent to him.
Filmed almost entirely in close-up, Blue Valentine is a highly claustrophobic viewing experience; Cianfrance may have put his actors through their paces during the making of the film (through months of arduous improvisation), but his audience does not come away unscathed either. This is as far from a pleasant and heart-warming experience as you can have in the cinema, but it is an exceptional and brutal piece of filmmaking.
Selected release from Fri 14 Jan.