HeyUGuys LogoI’ve decided to get into the habit when it comes to festivals to reserve my final review for the film I enjoyed most of the festival run- it adds that little extra element of prestige and affords me the luxury of time to gauge how the rest of the critical blogosphere has reacted to the same film. For Cannes, the winner in my eyes was Blue Valentine, the Un Certain Regard competitor helmed by Derek Cianfrance and lead by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams

Now that the dust has well and truly settled, the sentiment remains. Blue Valentine deserves to be considered amongst the best films of this year, with particularly fine work from both lead actors.

Blue Valentine is essentially a film about collisions. We are presented with two characters, entirely different, with entirely different backgrounds who have fallen in love and are doing their best to fall out of it. But that isnt exactly true: it is the story of the doomed convergence of a couple who are blinded by love (and circumstance), and handicapped by the relationships they have grown up with, and fervently fear they will recreate in their own lives. I am indebted to the Telegraph’s excellent, but all too brief review of the film for the following, perfectly-pitched evaluation:

It’s an anguished, acutely observed and at times deeply affecting story about falling in love — and out of love — that channels the keening, ugly desperation and emotional heft of the great John Cassavetes.

The central young couple (Williams and Gosling) spend the duration of the film attempting to save their marriage, while simultaneously replaying how they met and fell in love. The style is pleasingly non-linear, so we are able to watch, in two parallel time streams both the formation and the stagnation of the pair’s relationship.

Blue Valentine

Director Cianfrance handles the picture admirably- perhaps the twelve years it took to produce it gave him the time to carve the beautiful aesthetic with ridiculous precision- and visually the film stands tall above most of the other films I have seen this year. While the intimacy of the camera work harks to a style that is often accused of being a visual supplement for interior substance, Cianfrance’s vision instead heightens the overall intimacy of the portrait he is showing. And when the film does slide towards rather insistent aesthetic sincerity, there is enough substance to redeem it.

Ryan Gosling’s performance is just wonderful to watch, and it is little wonder, on the strength of his continued on-screen prowess, that he was once likened to a modern day Marlon Brando. All stifling comparisons aside, I honestly believe that Gosling is making some seriously clever career moves, consciously shying away from some might call the next big step (a box-office baiting major lead role) to focus on projects that show off his skills and presence. And long may his association with more indie productions like Cianfrance’s wonderful film continue, if he can continue to channel this kind of performance for his future roles.

Ryan GoslingHe offers a pitch perfect performance for Dean- the naive, hopeless romantic who has a rather unattainable model for romance and happiness, and wears enough of a suggestion of passion bubbling under his surface to make him an incredibly intriguing character. Dean is the epitome of the modern romantic lead- he isn’t socially important, nor is he particularly relevant to anyone but the small bubble of people he has built relationships with. His morality is also shaped by what makes him happy, and he has no overarching need to achieve to reach that happiness. Gosling’s performance of the character, though, and the way he is written, give him an impermanent majesty that makes the film’s resolution, and his personal tragedy enormously affecting.

Michelle Williams has always occurred to me as a confusingly overlooked talent- her CV doesnt exactly inspire huge confidence, but she has played some interesting parts and turned enough heads to be considered a good prospect. She is definitely the pick of the Dawson’s Creek alumni, and her involvement in Shutter Island will surely have helped her along. Her performance as Cindy in Blue Valentine is as emotionally intense as anyone could wish for, though in truth, before the film reveals its hand that she was blinded by lust for her husband it is a little difficult to understand the ferocity of her apathy towards her seemingly adoring husband.

Michelle WilliamsAt one stage there is a dangerous swerve towards her becoming a paradigm for the villainous wife, who was seduced by lust and her lover’s potential for greatness, and now realises her mistake and becomes almost inhumane in her lack of feeling towards him. But the “flashbacks” help rein it in, and her tragedy- that she is terrified of being trapped in a stagnant and loveless relationship, and that her accidental pregnancy probably precipitated a hasty attachment to the passionate, but ultimately naive Dean- is just as poignantly rendered as that of her husband.

But Blue Valentine isnt about the singular performances of Gosling and Williams, it is more an impressive showing of their ability to create a dynamic that is utterly believable and entirely compelling. Their situation is tangibly believable, and their tragedy completely devastating. Gosling and Williams, framed wonderfully by some impressive cinematography, offer performances of such stark intimacy and intensity that the film, in its most emotionally charged sequences is a claustrophobic and deeply affecting experience.

Particular praise must also go to the actors for convincingly playing two markedly different versions of the characters, whose physical difference due to ageing was astounding (helped by some stirling make-up transformation work- particularly on Ryan Gosling) but would surely have been unconvincing without fine acting work to back it up.

RYan Gosling & Michelle Williams

The film is perfectly adapted from an exceptional script that won the Chrysler Film Project, beating over 500 submissions and selected by a panel of eminent film professionals. While the script isn’t run by narrative hooks, it is mightily clever to have the two concurrent time-lines on-screen as a device in what can only be called a romantic tragedy as the comparison offers a touching pathos that frames the story wonderfully. At the end of the day, the plot needs little in terms of hook or action to grab the attention, as it is merely a conduit for the excellent performances of Williams and Gosling, and its true success is in its dialogue, and the opportunity to provides for the mesmorising chemistry between the two. This is how you tell a simple story- it is both nuanced and utterly compelling.

Thankfully there is no attempt by Cianfrance, or fellow script-writer Joey Curtis, to offer a villain- both characters are to blame for their tragedy, and with that assertion Blue Valentine takes its position as a telling and appropriate gritty, no-holds-barred modern romance.

I wrote the following paragraph prior to the release of the Un Certain Regard award winners, but I feel it warrants inclusion here:

I said it as I came out of the screening, and Ill repeat it here: I think that if Blue Valentine fails to walk away with the Un Certain Regard there is something wrong- it will certainly not be a decision based on class or technical prowess. Likewise, Ryan Gosling deserves some kind of recognition for his stirling work on the project, though I fear the UCR jury will look to a European film for their overall winner.

This is the first time that a film seen at Cannes this year has made me really want to come here and advise everyone to go and see it when it is released across the globe at the end of this year. And I have confidence that it will find a huge audience who will come out of it feeling as passionately as me about it.

I can say unreservedly that Blue Valentine has struck a resounding chord with me: it is undoubtedly the film experience that I have enjoyed most of all at this year’s festival, and I cant wait for the opportunity to see it again once it is released later in the year to British screens. I would also happily recommend that HeyuGuys readers take the opportunity to see it themselves later in the year.