A review of "Blue Valentine" coming up after the jump:
Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine" is yet another masterpiece from 2010, which is rapidly proving to be the best film year in quite sometime. The story of a once happy couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in two of the better film performances in recent memory) confronting long-dormant tension in their relationship, it's raw and often hard to watch. But it also contains some of the most brutally honest acting and writing I've seen in ages.
Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) have been married for several years, and have a young daughter. Initially the marriage seems happy, or at least functional. That all changes when Dean decides to rent a motel room one night while their daughter's away. What starts as an attempt at romance soon becomes something else entirely, as they attack each other both emotionally and physically.
Cianfrance cuts between these darkly riveting sequences to shots of the couple's courtship. While this kind of "before and after" idea is certainly nothing new, it's used to perfection here. The flashbacks occur during natural breaking points: such as when Cindy makes up an excuse to stop the car in order to get away from Dean for just a few seconds. And they provide information that enhances our understanding of the couple, as well as makes the marriage's impending destruction even more heartbreaking.
I don't think it's an understatement to say that Gosling and Williams will probably never give better performances than they do here. They inhabit these characters. And the range they show is incredible. Gosling brings out Dean's romantic side (as well as his musical one) during a sequence in which he serenades Cindy while she dances, but also portrays the character's darker, uglier side during the scenes at the motel. Williams is equally incredible: going from cheerful to sad to angry with the utmost ease.
Cianfrance's direction is deeply intimate, often making the viewer feel as if Dean and Cindy are the only two people in the world (to be fair, they're often the only two characters on screen). More importantly, he doesn't get in the way or resort to any kind of gimmick shots: apart from one very brief shaky-cam scene. When he has two actors delivering performances as good as these, why should he?
For all its brilliance, "Blue Valentine" was nominated for only one Oscar: for Williams's searing performance. That's not entirely without precedent: edgy, harrowing fare such as this rarely gets a lot of attention from major awards bodies. But my hunch is that when future generations look back on 2010, this is one of the films that will age particualrly well. After all, love (and the loss of it) is a timeless thing, and "Blue Valentine" has the makings of a classic.