Blue Valentine unfolds in a way that is meant to reflect a sense of reality, one in which bitter truths are addressed within the confines of a relationship. But Cianfrance’s film doesn’t really capture that sense – there instead is a mystification, or rather, nostalgic appreciation for courtship coupled with a raw exhibition of a marital collapse. The middle portion, a period spanning nearly six years, is absent, to which one ponders the elements that have resulted in such dissolution between two people.
Cianfrance’s directorial prowess ought not to be understated, as what may seem like a gimmick is utilized in such a way to create moments of intense emotional reaction. He leaps back and forth in chronology, wherein on the surface it seems that physical characteristics are the only means of telling the difference in lapses of time – in the opening present sequence, we see a barely recognizable Ryan Gosling with a receding hairline with an exasperated looking Michelle Williams. During the courtship period of the film, the two obviously look more youthful, as the two are enamored by how interesting they find each other. Cianfrance shoots these tender sequences of blossoming love with both Williams and Gosling in the frame constantly – at times dizzying, Cianfrance never loses sight of the two as they go about their courtship together. Yet as their marriage faces increasing strain, Williams and Gosling are rarely in the same frame – distance grows between them, and even as they fight, one always seems out of focus, hidden in the background or in another room. Such simple use of space leads to remarkable visual and narrative results.
Beyond its technical accomplishments, the film tugged upon an emotional chord that I really responded to. Films of this nature seem to allocate blame upon characters – often one more than the other. Cianfrance is not entirely successful in keeping blame on an even keel, but to zero-in on that specific aspect goes against what I’d consider to be the film’s arguable point; time sheds light on perceived character flaws – a relationship continues or ends based on how you handle the fact that things you once loved in a person are the things that annoy you. The years that Blue Valentine omits are the slow acknowledgment of that.