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Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine is exceedingly grim fare, so much so that you have to admire the fact that it ever got made. I don’t mean grim in A Serbian Film manner; but this is 500 Days Of Summer minus any of the fun (though it’s a vastly superior piece of work).

It follows, in non-linear fashion, the birth and death of a relationship, with a crucial and doomed last-gasp visit to a theme-hotel holding centre-stage. Crucial because the central players (Michelle Williams, unhappily accepting of their inexorable plight; Ryan Gosling, adamantly denying of obvious finality) use this bridge between the chronologically shuffled start/stop scene assemblages to flex their respective downbeat muscles. Gosling is restlessly beseeching and exacerbates irreconcilable differences (and is extremely affecting) whilst Williams is a disappointed and stubbornly regretful realist. She will eventually cut the cord and he will cling to it, and so it goes.

In between the beginning and end, then, we have aforementioned and unbeknownst not-so-fond farewell at a cheesy hotel replete with rotating bed and oppressive cocktail-bar hues. They get drunk and play their song, which no longer means what it did; it’s now loaded with melancholic certainty. Their final evening ends in separate rooms post-argument, and continues disastrously once Williams is called back into an early-shift the next day, Gosling soon following, indignant and inebriated.

The performances are often a question of Gosling prompting a response from an often imperceptibly wooed/all-too-obviously wearied Williams, and the results are subtly excellent. Revelations and other inter-relationships are guilefully brought into play and sympathies are toyed with, but both actors render their roles substantial and believable throughout and make the film definitively about the complex mechanics of a relationship you care about.

Director Derek Cianfrance wisely keeps out of the way and lets the mutual intensity prevail uncluttered. It’s a sound, sure-footed effort and, during the hotel sequences, in which a terminally-ill relationship reaches its quiet demise in blue-tinged funereality, he manages to hint at an elegantly bruised Wong Kar-Wai / John Cassavettes fusion.

It’s difficult to know or measure how much the groundwork affected the finished film (Gosling and Williams lived together for a month, shared housework etc, in what seems like a fairly zealous ‘method’ move) but there is an undeniable poignant something between the two leads that slowly crackles at both ends of the relationship continuum, and Blue Valentine is a bleakly impressive work of serious merit.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. marc gardner
    February 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Re: the mention of Wong Kar-Wai. ‘In The Mood for Love’ is the greatest love story I’ve ever seen put to film. If Blue Valentine offers up only hints of that majesty, I’m all for it.

    • February 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm

      The hotel sequence seems to be obviously referencing it. Lofty parallel I know….

  2. March 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Apparently Norwegian Wood has the same cinematographer as In the Mood for Love (and the same director as the marvellous Scent of Green Papayas) so if you’re fans of ItMfL it should be worth checking out. Is it on your to see list Lee?

    • March 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm

      Indeed, Ping Bin Lee and Anh Hung Tran – although I must come clean and admit that the films you mention are my only familiarity with their work (although Cyclo is ‘on the list’). Add Murakami to that and Norwegian Wood is most definitely on the list also: hopefully get to see it this weekend, all being well. Are you going to see it, Max?

      • March 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm

        I haven’t read Norwegian Wood yet, so I need to do that first.

        I’ll likely get it on DVD. To be honest I haven’t seen anything in a cinema in ages. The lighting levels seem much higher than they used to be which I find distracting, people seem to talk more and the prices are bloody high. I keep getting disappointed by the experience.

        Plus the hours I work make it difficult. I did consider making an exception for this but I’d need to get an afternoon off work which is a bit of a pain.

        Cyclo is good by the way. I prefer Scent but Cyclo has a strong visual sense which remains with me years after I saw it.

      • March 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm

        I am becoming more and more prone to grumpiness at the multiplex, and am near allergic. I try and make sure I’m going to a scantly-populated screening or it can be unbearable. Does anyone need to phone a friend in the middle of a film? Gah!

        The lighting levels: interesting point. You are certainly right, though who can say what that’s down to? I do recall going to watch Animal Kingdom and wondering what on earth the lights were still on for at one point, albeit dimly. Troubling.

        I hope to get the afternoon off tomorrow to go see NW, but don’t tell anyone……………

  3. March 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I think the light levels are to protect multiplexes from the possibility of lawsuits relating to people tripping up in the dark. I’d guess it’s done under the cover of a health and safety requirement, but H&S rules actually tend to mostly be fairly sensible – the extremes of H&S are usually misinterpretation or companies blaming something they want to do anyway on mythical health and safety obligations.

    Given the choice between slightly spoiling the experience for the majority of cinemagoers or leaving themselves open to the remote chance of someone successfully suing because they couldn’t step carefully in the dark I suspect the multiplexes go for eliminating the small risk. After all, they’re not in this for the love of film…

  4. March 17, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Indeed – and interesting stuff. But have you tried watching a horror film with the lamp on? It’s just not the same…

    The light levels just prior to the trailer pre-amble, at my local cinema anyway, are far too gloomy to truly expose stumble-fodder and thus negate tenuous lawsuits etc. They just haven’t thought it through…I’m sure Alfred Hitchcock, for example, would fume at such nonsense.

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