(Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
Cianfrance's brutally honest relationship drama gets it's details right, and it captures emotional tones with painterly precision. Falling in love; an experience hopelessly fudged by so many romantic comedies, here beautifully captured in a few short, telling scenes. The agony and frustration of a toxic relationship, all repetitive arguments and stubborn misunderstanding, here portrayed with awful, microscopic perception.
The structure is so simple and yet undeniably effective: alternating between the end of a relationship and the beginning, Blue Valentine offers us a glimpse of how these two people might be happy together, before crushingly revealing - never obviously, always subtly, through character and behaviour - how their choices and decisions have made them so miserable together.
Cianfrance shoots the contemporary scenes in claustrophobic close-ups so that we're right there in the tight gap between these people, the backgrounds a haze of colour and abstraction. The flashback scenes are grainier but the mise-en-scene is looser, more accessibly attuned to environment, giving audience and characters room to breathe.
Some of the many ironies are a little too on the nose - calling the motel room where much key action occurs "the Future", for instance - but the script is impressively crafted in its ear for the rhythms of casual speech. Particularly great is the perfect capture of the way conversations can get away from people, from banter to a supernova of an argument in a few Ill-thought phrases, and how these things acquire their own momentum.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are both extraordinary, capturing the contrast between their earlier youthful promise and joy and the weariness of later real life, and more besides, with beautiful naturalism. Grizzly Bear's music is a fine fit for the material, and Cianfrance proves he has a great eye and a feel for working with actors.
Finally, its quite emotionally devastating, and quite possibly the worst date movie ever.