Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance)


Love. Oh how sweet and promising it really is when it first flourishes between two people's hearts. It shows how everything seems to be all too easy, how nothing seems to hinder no one, and how everyone around you is but a blurring haze. That is the description of 'love' in the earliest of its budding, but when all those reside somewhere into a corner and reality once again sets in, well, what then? "Blue Valentine", a heartbreaking, charmingly funny yet emotionally draining independent film that depicts with utter realism and emotions stripped off of all the gloss of cinematic consciousness, the disillusioning eventuality of the aforementioned romantic euphoria.

The film, directed by Derek Cianfrance and shown in a 'back and forth' non-linear structure, perfectly captured both a relationship's magical first weeks to the shattering trials and slowly settling indifference of the latter ones. The couple, Dean and Cindy, (performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams that certainly warrant spots in a shortlist of best performances of 2010) although with a hint of an escalating spatial gap, clearly still have love for each other. And unlike other films who show a couple's connection through quick smiles, hugs and kisses, Dean and Cindy's relational strength are underlined by hardships.

Of course there's a time where the film seems to slightly go into romantically 'cute' sequences to develop both the characters' mutual affection, but between those lines, we see the passiveness of their deteriorating love. In the opening scene, we see Dean, along with their daughter, go into their bedroom to wake Cindy up. Dean dives into the bed and playfully kisses Cindy, but she shrugs off. From that scene onwards, I think it's fair to say that at least we can weigh it off that Dean is much more enthusiastic to redeem their downward spiral of a marriage than his wife. He even sets up a romantic revitalization of sorts in a 'future' room (filled with all those sci-fi buttons and stuff) in a themed motel with Cindy.

But the thing with Dean is, he's too defensively fragile. "You're never going to guess who I saw at the liquor mart." Cindy said to Dean while they're on their way to the motel. "Bobby Ontario", she then followed. It turns out, this Bobby Ontario is Cindy's old flame. And after hearing the name, Dean turns into a short silence and engaged into an uneasy argument with Cindy that furthered the fact that he is insecure with himself. And as what was subsequently followed by a conversation inside the said 'future' room between the two about what Dean really wants to do with his life aside from being a life-long blue collar worker, he is insecure with what he really want to be. A hint of an unconscious quarter-life crisis rising in the midst of a couple in trepidation. I think 'falling out of love' is an understatement.

Michelle Williams, in these scenes I've mentioned and a whole lot more, flawlessly inhabited the character Cindy's evolution from being an innocent young lover at a crossroads to an innocent young lover whose last-second epiphany taught her the ropes of 'responsibility' and finally, a wife whose own emotional exhaustion, because of an unhappy marriage, suggests desensitization.

Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, with his carefree demeanor all throughout the film, substantially portrayed Dean, a character of considerably stern masculinity (in terms of knowing what to do in the right times but sadly, barely knowing what to say in truly important ones) that despite of his educational limitations and lack of adequate parental guidance and upbringing, hesitates being meek in life.

Both characters are flawed, has gone through so much yet still knew too little. As their utterances of 'for better or for worse' fade into an ethereal image of their longingly long kiss, they have experienced with delight the 'better' but they have not prepared for the 'worse'. But aren't all couples?

"Blue Valentine", with its grounded approach to the nuances of love and the transformation of romantic warmth to consuming coldness, depicts love stripped bare from all the picture-perfect qualities of its immediate visualization upon the sweet acceptance of vows and wearing of the rings. And also explicitly shows the transitory pleasures and disappointments of the supposedly passionate sexual connection that comes with it.

Any imagination for a transcendental love will all be for naught once the storm settles in, and no motel room can rightfully compensate for the shortcomings of sex. But when it finally subsides and all seems to be back to the usual normality of marriage stability, then what? "Blue Valentine" supports the fact that though a marriage ceremony ends with short answers like 'I do' , every step from then on always begins with some questions, half-finished sentences, tearful apologies and even lessons along the way.

Beyond that point, 'Do I?' resonates more. It's not a question to fully reevaluate one's feelings toward his/her love, but an emotional disambiguation of a romantic perspective in a state of confusion and doubt. Love is too complex, tangled and often times painful a phenomenon that we just have to accept it as a fact. I'm sure "Blue Valentine" wholeheartedly does.


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