Not all romances end with rousing music and fairy tale happy endings: The Break-Up gave us the finite side of love; the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset franchise offered soulmates with bad timing; and that’s to say nothing of the doom that faced lovers like Romeo and Juliet. Yet on top of the decades and centuries of creative coupling, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine finds new ground by unleashing the infrequently-visited aspects of romance as Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams meet, love, and leave. Hit the jump for my review of Blue Valentine on Blu-ray.Blue Valentine is the story of Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams), two everyday people who meet by chance and quickly fall in love. But instead of a linear story, Cianfrance outlines the two major aspects of their relationship – how they meet and fall in love, and how their relationship dissolves into anger and unrest. Jumping back and forth through time, the film explores the subtleties and quirks that draw the pair together, and how those same characteristics ultimately rip them apart.
Shot documentary-style, the film pushes beyond the typical cinematic manipulations we’ve grown accustomed to – the carefully angled shots, the rousing music, the suffocatingly clichéd plot lines. Instead of being told what to feel, the audience is left to react as if they’re watching real life as a fly on the wall. The camera often shoots the couple from behind or the side, just existing in the space as the events unfold without any sort of insistence about what the viewer must see, from the sweet moments as they tease each other as strangers, to the pain and anger of a weary couple.
Left to our own opinions and devices, we react to the film as if we’re immediately experiencing it. We might feel compassion and camaraderie with Dean and his frustration one moment, and then nod in understanding with Cindy the next. This is because just as much as Cianfrance is focused on letting the actors tell the story rather than his camera, the plot lives in interpersonal moments of grey. Neither is the hero or the villain. Both Cindy and Dean are realistic, flawed individuals with an array of emotions that aren’t scripted by Hollywood expectations, but rather the erratic fervor of real life.
Much of this is due to the unique unfolding of the project, which is revealed in the Blu-ray’s special features. Between the Making-Of documentary and Cianfrance’s audio commentary with co-editor Jim Helton, the Blu-ray discusses the long road to making the film, how the film took several years to come together, and the lengths to which Gosling, Williams, and Cianfrance went to make Dean and Cindy’s relationship feel real – from unknown talents only revealed on-camera while shooting, to the leads sharing a house together for a month as their characters. On top of these features, the Blu-ray offers a collection of deleted scenes and “home movies” shot by Cindy and Dean’s family while living in that house between shooting.
It’s plenty of bonus content to feed film fans, while suggesting that more might come in the future. Between the film’s Oscar buzz and critical acclaim, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the film hit Criterion one day – especially since Cianfrance has hours upon hours of unused footage that isn’t included, some of which he discusses in the commentary.
However, while it is clear that there is more, the Blue Valentine Blu-ray is a solid release of a beautiful film.