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Film Review

Blue Valentine

We have grown accustomed to films that portray people falling in love, but far fewer show these relationships disintegrating. Few story lines are sadder than a once loving couple drifting apart, not because of particularly dramatic events (i.e. "Rabbit Hole") but because people change, and sometimes those changes doom their once solid attraction. Derek Cianfrance, director and co-writer, has given us "Blue Valentine", which looks at a six year period in a relationship and marriage between Cindy, played by Michelle Williams, and Dean, played by Ryan Gosling. The title, clearly intended as a pun, can be read as blue as in sad, or blue as in sexual. Both are expressed in this film. Cindy, a nurse, and Dean, a house painter, have a little girl, Frankie, who opens the film with her calling out a name in a field. It soon develops that she is looking for her dog, who apparently has run away. This presages an increasingly sad story. Dean is a very loving father, shown by a charming scene in which Frankie picks the raisins out of her oatmeal, puts them on the table, and she and her father eat them "like leopards". Cindy is a good mother, but both are losing their connections to each other. Dean only wants to be a good father and loving husband, but Cindy wants him to be more ambitious, not in a social sense, but in terms of accomplishment. And their sex life is dying. Class is also a factor. They live a blue collar life in a mobile home, and Dean's house painting isn't particularly rewarding.

Cianfrance then cuts back to their initial meeting and courtship, which is spontaneous and filled with Dean's boyish antics to woo Cindy, including a cute scene one evening of Ben playing a ukulele while Cindy does an awkward little dance in a doorway. Cindy has a boyfriend who doesn't take kindly to a rival, but Dean is persistent. Their sex life becomes very hot, with some candid camera work, and Cindy soon becomes pregnant. She decides to have an abortion, and the scene in her doctor's office is gripping. The technique of cutting back and forth between the past and the present is actually very effective, and it emphasizes how much of their relationship has been lost over time. In an attempt to recover some of their sex life, Dean rents a motel room, but it becomes a tragicomedy. Later, as Dean recognizes how unhappy Cindy is, he acts out in ways that do not seem consistent with his character. This seemed to me the only flaw in a closely observed, intelligent look at a disintegrating marriage. There is a gritty reality here, with all the emotional rawness and sadness exposed. The acting was absolutely outstanding, and both seem likely to get Oscar nominations. In an interview, the director noted that there were no rehearsals, and most scenes were only shot once. Hand held 16 mm cameras are used, especially for the scenes of the past, which have a liveliness to them. The present tense scenes are much steadier and somber, with the colors somewhat muted. The soundtrack is mostly pop, and appropriately soulful. "Blue Valentine" is a very fine film, bleak to be sure, but moving and memorable for its story and fine acting. Just opened at the Kabuki.

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