Romantic relationships are tricky things. They usually begin with doe-eyed lovers gazing longingly into each other's eyes, wondering how they could go on in life without this person. They laugh at each other's stupid jokes. They cuddle, caress, and adore each other. Sometimes relationships stay like this. Sometimes people get married and stay in love until the bitter end. Other times, they just don't. Suddenly the relationship has lost its vitality. The participants become short and curt with each other. They fight over silly things. They're growing apart.
'Blue Valentine' is director Derek Cianfrance's first full-length feature film, and it's certainly one of the best films of 2010. I first saw 'Blue Valentine' when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and have been waiting patiently for its home video release so I could watch it again. Never has a movie so elegantly patched together a story about people falling in love, while simultaneously witnessing them falling out of love.
Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are growing distant towards one another. They've been married for a few years. They have a young daughter who they both love, but you can tell that there's something wrong. Their body language is all off. They criticize, rather than trying to console. When Cindy accidentally leaves the dog's gate open, Dean quietly rips into her after they've found the dog dead on the side of the road. This isn't a happy marriage, but why did these people get married in the first place if they can't stand each other now?
That's where Cianfrance's vision comes into play. I know I've wondered, after I've seen couples that fight constantly, why did those people ever get together? The answer is simple. They once loved each other. Cianfrance treats us to flashbacks of Dean and Cindy's lives. How they met, their courtship, and their marriage.
The flaskbacks provide a powerful insight into how solid a relationship can seem, and how fast it can turn sour. Dean is a hopeless romantic who tries his hardest to woo Cindy. Cindy is just looking for someone to settle down with. She's dated the sports stars and as we find out later has had numerous sexual partners. She never really looks like she's searching for love, but when Dean comes along she acts like she could love him. Perhaps that's the problem. While Dean is hopelessly in love with Cindy, Cindy seems to be going through the paces. There's no doubt she cares for Dean, but she never shows the same resolve as Dean does to make things work.
The beauty of 'Blue Valentine' is that it's impossible to pinpoint where the relationship between Dean and Cindy crumbled. Isn't that always the case? Relationships aren't destroyed by one single act. It's the little things that carry a marriage down to destruction. The detail of the movie is phenomenal. At times Cianfrance must have said, 'Here's the outline for the scene, now go ahead and do what you feel is right.' These actors could handle something like that, that's for sure. These scenes between Dean and Cindy are so raw that you'd swear you're watching a real fight taking place. The way they become flustered and just start repeating themselves over and over. It's hard to find words in the middle of a heated shouting match.
'Blue Valentine' is a real, uncensored look at how a relationship works, and if not treated with care, how it can easily deteriorate. Cianfrance has created a beautiful film, with flawed but interesting characters. Hats off to Gosling and Williams who both turn in fantastic performances. While it may be difficult to notice where Dean and Cindy's marriage went wrong, it's easy to see that 'Blue Valentine's depiction of it is perfect.
'Blue Valentine' has two distinctly different looks. Comparing this to the print I saw at Sundance I have to say that it looks and feels exactly like the director intended.
The scenes that take place in present tense are given a more crisp, clear look. The digital photography captures tons of detail. Cianfrance loves the ultra-close-ups and here we get loads of fine facial detail. Edges are precise and discernible. Colors pop, even in the low-lit, teal-tinged Future Room that they go to for the night. Blacks are dark and inky providing wonderful depth to the picture. Shadows are also well-delineated.
The scenes from Dean and Cindy's past, which show them hooking up, dating, and getting married are shot on Super 16, giving it a softer look. A thick layer of grain is constant throughout, but these scenes are in a more dream-like state. The difference between the two time periods is subtle, but it makes a huge difference in how we feel about what's going on. There are no technical issues to report. Banding, aliasing, and shimmering are all kept at bay, which was nice. This is exactly how 'Blue Valentine' was meant to look.
'Blue Valentine' is afforded a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix.
I do remember, when I first saw the movie, that its audio was very soft for the start. These characters routinely speak in whispers and talk over each other, but the sound design does a nice job giving all the dialogue space to breath. Still, this is a drama, and as such, it's a front-heavy audio mix. Directionality works well in Dean and Cindy's numerous fights. As the camera cuts from one person to the other, their voices are placed perfectly in the soundfield representing where they are relative to the camera angle. Ambient sound is light, like most intensely personally dramas like this one.
Overall this is a satisfying audio presentation, just don't expect it to test your system's limits.
'Blue Valentine' is a thought-provoking, provocative drama about the impossible intricacies of love. How does it work? How does it happen? And how does it go bad? 'Blue Valentine' doesn't directly answer these questions, but by watching Dean and Cindy, you can form your own conclusions. They are some of the most realistic characters you'll ever see. I just love this movie. The audio and video directly reflect what I saw when 'Blue Valentine' was at Sundance. There are only a few special features, but they contain some nice supplemental footage for anyone who's interested. 'Blue Valentine' comes highly recommended.