Blue Valentine (2010)

20 January 2011

Guest review: Srini S. is based in India.

Blue Valentine starts from where most romantic films end at - the stuff that happens after the couples declare “I do” and the credits roll while a romantic song swells in the background. In a country where the divorce rate is high, there are few films that concern themselves with the actual process of falling apart of marriages. Blue Valentine belongs to that minority of films that actually accomplish this in an artistic fashion and with a rare sincerity.

Derek Cianfrance is the director and co-writer of this film. Though he has been working for more than a decade in films and television (mostly making documentaries and short films), Blue Valentine appears to be his first major feature film after his debut film Brother Tied (1998). The cast includes Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in the lead roles. All three have been involved with the making of this film for several years before it could finally be completed. Their efforts and sincerity reflect abundantly in the quality of the film. 

Blue Valentine derives its name from the short hand that the film makers used to describe two distinct phases in a couple’s relationship - “Blue” for the strained period leading up to a near breakdown and “Valentine” for the happy phase leading up to their marriage. What happens between these two phases can be pieced together from the details we are shown in these two phases. But if you get the sense of what the filmmaker attempts to say in this film, that specific information is hardly as important as it seems.

The happy phase is shown in fragments of flash-back interspersed within the main narrative describing the events in the present. Many interesting things can be noted due to this choice. In one flash-back scene, Ryan Gosling is seen mentioning to his co-worker something like “girls keep looking for prince-charming all their lives and when they marry, they go for the guy with a job”. This, though not so important for the couple when these words were spoken, takes on a much greater significance later in the marriage. To understand this, if you haven’t seen the film, you have to know that Cindy (a nurse by profession, played by Michelle Williams) goes on to marry Dean (a construction worker, played by Ryan Gosling) against the approval of her family who have a problem with his financial and career prospects. In a later scene, where the couple make a late attempt to patch up their failing marriage by going to a cheap “romantic motel”, Cindy expresses to Dean that he is not working up to his potential.

Sex scenes take on a different dimension each time. In a scene about Cindy’s past, the sex with her ex-boyfriend is only physical, reflecting the basis of their relationship as well. The scenes between Cindy and Dean in their happy days are much more passionate in nature. This includes the oral sex scene which unduly dragged the film into an MPAA rating controversy (which makes me wonder what kind of idiots do the rating in the first place). Their sex towards the later stage of the marriage is more of a go-to fix for several relationship problems, which have nothing to do with sex in the first place. The film highlights how such attempts are eventually futile and can only make matters worse. 

Blue Valentine does not tackle the theme of marital strain in an abstract manner. The social compulsions and bonds are given their due importance. One such choice is the presence of a daughter, with whom both Cindy and Dean share a common bond. In a heart-wrenching scene, wonderfully acted by Ryan Gosling, Dean pleads to Cindy to give him another chance and he implores her to consider the future of the little girl. Also the body language of Cindy, transforming from bubbly to cold over the 6 years of marriage in contrast to Dean’s depicts the nature of true relationships where the factors that bring together people don’t last forever.

Though Blue Valentine has been acknowledged by the big awards, it has failed to sweep the winning votes that it so much deserves in several categories. I doubt if Oscars will be any different and I will be pleasantly surprised if it turns out to the contrary. To conclude, we need more films like this and we need to watch more films like this.