This is my second feature interview with Derek Cianfrance - click HERE to read the first.
Just as it’s title suggests, Blue Valentine is an exquisitely tragic love story. It’s a film that provocatively traverses the fate of star-crossed lovers, but don’t go in expecting Romeo and Juliet. Instead, writer-director Derek Cianfrance has crafted his tale with a resolute eye on the plight of modern day relationships. With powerhouse performances from Michelle Williams (Wendy & Lucy, Shutter Island) and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl) Blue Valentine is both the story of the couple’s sublime infatuation, and, six years later, an account of a combustible couple of days in their marriage.
“Romeo and Juliet was a big inspiration,” reveals the softly spoken, wonderfully eloquent director. “Mostly because I felt like it’s the love tragedy that’s out there and it gets replayed time and time again; where two young people at the peak of their love end up dying in each other’s arms, and their love is preserved for all time.
“That’s the story that’s been taught to all of us, but I haven’t ever met anyone who’s had that good romantic fortune to die at the peak of their love, when everything’s great. But I know a lot of people that death doesn’t come in and betray their love, time [does.]
“So I didn’t want to make the Romeo and Juliet version, I wanted to make the version that I could actually relate to; that my parents [and] my friends could relate to, of what actually can happen. And in that idea of time, there [are] no answers. There [are] questions; there’s a mystery to it. So I wanted to make this mystery film about where love comes from and where it goes.”
After 12 years, Cianfrance’s has finally brought his mystery to the big screen, and to soaring critical acclaim. Masterfully crafted, many of the film’s questions emanate from its structure as Cianfrance tantalisingly, poignantly, and yes, at times, infuriatingly, cuts between the past and the present (for who wouldn’t wish to linger in the warm glow of the love story?). The filmmaker freely admits his debt to The Godfather Part II, but ventures yet further back in film history: “Cross-cutting storytelling goes back to D.W. Griffith and Intolerance, and I just think it’s such a powerful tool of the cinema.”
In Blue Valentine, this cross-cutting achieves a simple, yet devastating effect. “Contrast,” Cianfrance says, “Darkness and light. [Blue Valentine] was always based on these battling dualities that exist, the magnetic duality in nature that exists in all of us.”
However, these polarising forces aren’t reflected in a gendered audience response to the film. Though Cianfrance manages an impressively even-handed account, Blue Valentine is sure to provoke many a heated debate as people pick sides for their sympathies: with Cindy, the harried nurse, or goofy but adoring father Dean. Chuckling as he recounts hiding out after screenings to hear the responses first hand, Cianfrance offers his evidence. “There’s a large portion of the audience that sees both sides of the movie. Then there’s a portion that goes on Dean’s side and a portion that goes for Cindy, and it’s not necessarily along gender lines. There’s a lot of women out there for instance who can’t understand why you’d leave a guy who looks like Ryan Gosling! And a lot of men say, ‘Dude, that guy’s so annoying!’”
“We were trying to play with gender specifics in this movie anyway. I would always tell Michelle that she was playing the man in this relationship and I would always tell Ryan that he was playing the woman.”
Bluntly confronting and endlessly compassionate, the film is at once a love story, a mystery and a cautionary tale. Regardless of which side of the battle you wind up on, Blue Valentine remains a thought-provoking, unforgettable experience; something that pleases the filmmaker no end: “To me that was such a compliment to the film that it could actually make people disagree.”
Image- Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling (disagree with Dean if you dare!)
Published by Street Press Australia in 3D World (page 28)
Blue Valentine is released on Boxing Day - read my review HERE.