Blue Valentine Analysis
Derek Cianfrance describes his first feature as form over content, meaning the style played a bigger role in the film than the story did. Brother Tied was his first film and has yet to be distributed. In this analysis I aim to show how he has used form and filmmaking choices to support the narrtive and performances in this film.
Derek Cianfrance went on to make The Place Beyond the Pines, but struggled for 12 years trying to make Blue Valentine. Named after the Tom Waits album. He wrote 67 drafts of the script, drew over 1000 stroyboards and wrote a manifesto.
As well as persitence and passion through throse 12 years he designed a manifesto which is basically the rules for the process in which he would make the film. We will breakdown the rules he chose and discuss the results.
Blue Valentine is a film of duality.
Man Woman, past present, the beginning and the end of a relationship.
First lets have a look at how to photographically respsent the two time periods,
The past was shot on film, this gave a classic, romantic feel to this section of the film, It also provided a sense of urgencey and spontinatinty for the characters as each roll of film was only a certain length and this ment fewer takes, fresher performances and quicker practical filmmaking.
The past was always shot with a 50mm lens which is the equivlant to the human eye, allowing the audience to see and feel the characters as they fell in love and be with the characters during longer unbroken takes.
The presnent was shot on digital to give it that slightly atrifical feel and rather than be up close to the actors with a 50mm lens, the present section was shot from really far away and with long zoom lenses, creating a very shallow depth of field affect. This did a number of things, firstly it seperated the two visually, it also focused very much on the heads and shoulders of the characters as the presnet narratively is about over thinking and being stuck in their heads about their relationship rather than the open bodily experince of falling in love. It also ment that they we frames in two different shots, to emphasies the distance and sepration between the character at this stage, as apposded to the past where the were generally framed together or with one in the frame being joined and completed by the other.
The past section was shot all with a hand held camera, to get that alive feeling and again to emphaises the excitement of falling in love, also the process of shooting some of those scenes required some flexibilty for the camera man as the actors were given a lot of freedom to move around and be spontaious as we will explore in a few upcoming scenes.
Compared to the fast shooting of the past on film, Digital allowed for much longer shooting days, with the freedom of unlimited memory space it created the ability to film for endurance to really get the actors to a place of exhaustion and frustration with each other, supporting the purpose of the present scenes.
The present was shot using two digital cameras, one on each character, to keep the character seperated and always on tripods. To compare that alive hand held feel to the static frustration of their relationship at this point.
One of the main things Derek Cianfrance was able to show with Blue Valentine was his ability to facilitate great performances. Lets look at some of the scenarios which he used to get the actors to these places, as laid out in his manifeto.
The past falling in love section was shot first and then Derke Cianfrance orginally wanted to take a 6 year break between the past and present sections of the film, but the studio wanted to give him a weekend, so they settled on a month. During this month, Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams and ‘Frankie’ lived in the house we see in the film. They had an artifucal christmans, birthday, made home movies, Ryan and Michelle were told to argue all day long and pick fights with each other and the take frankie out for ice cream to get that feeling of hidding their private life and hiding their pain in public, which places a major role in the first part of the film.
The month hyatis provided that lived in quailty and that depth in realtionship with is hard to write in a script but is obvious while watching the film.
Lets look at a few praticular scenes in which Derek Cianfrance constructed in order to get great performaces.
Ryan Gosling burrying the dog scene:- despite being a relativelty short moment in terms of screen time, Derek made Ryan dig the hole himself and fully burry the dog and after going through the full process, he began to break down and cry, Cianfrance called it, using the body to infleunce the mind.
Another scene was the husband and child waking the wife, were they set the camera up infront of Michelle the night before and siwtched it on in the morning just before they ran in and jumped on here, getting an authentic awakening on film, in the aim of creating honest moments.
Ryan was also encouraged to give Michelles charcter a gift, Ryan Gosling was the one who found the ‘you and me’ song and presented it during th shooting, so the first time the characters both heard the song was when they shot that scene.
One of the more memorable scenes which was mainly featured in the trailers was the singing and dancing by the heart scene. Derek asked both characters during their prepation for the role to select a speical talent and keep it secret from each other, And the were instructed to walk the streets and when they got to the heart it was time to reveal their talents to each other. Derek was the only person prior to shoot who knew both of the talents. So the moment we see gosling reveal the song and Michelle dances is the first time they’ve shared that moment toegther and it was captured on film.
This documentry type style was used a lot in the past in order to get that freshness and unexpected quailty. This was shown again in the bridge scene. Rya was told to get Michelle to talk no matter what and Michelle was told to keep it a secret no matter what, after many takes of Michelle not giving up her secret, Gosling decided to climb and almost climb off the bridge until Michelle finally broke and revealled the secret. A little dangerous yes, but a moment that wasn’t scripted that happened in the moment and was great for the film.
Another feature that seperates the time periods is music, The present never has any score, only the ocassional artifical radio music or cd, this gets across a kind of empty feeling and espcially compared to the score that is always evident as we re-eneter the past and during most of the past scenes, creating that feeling of nostaglia and magic for a previous time in their lives and allows the audience to experince that feeling too.
As well as movement back and forth between past and present the film is structed so that the climax and charsendo at the same moment. The peak of the past is they’re wedding and vows to each other and the peak of the present is the kitchen scene were they ultimately decided to end their relationship.
These two moments almost overlap and follow one another near the end of the film, the contrsat of each is echoed by the use of light in both scenes. After the wedding the couple walk in to the distance togther and fade into a heavenly white colour and immediately after, Gosling apprear from the darkness of all back, alone, marking the moment the relaiotnship has ended.
The distance between the characters is already evident during the opening breakfats scenes, you can see the focus shift to showcase the already exsiting dictance but the last moment of the film uses the same focus pulls and shows characters no longer static but for the first time moving in opposite directions.
An interesting question Derek Cianfrance used to pose to audicneces after screenings was what character did you side with during your viewing? as he aimed to create a story of duality between these two he edited scenes in and out to get the balance of a 50/50 answer. He’s said that there’s is no moral lesson here, no black or white answer, more the idea that relationships are much more grey in nature. So I think it would be interesting to ask the same question here, who did you side with afer your viewing and why, feel free to comment bellow.
I personally sided with Deans character, even though he was equalily responsible for the downfall of the relationship and his drinking made him very distructive, he still fights for them right to the end, this is summed up in my favourite scene in the film when he throws his rings away and then immediately regrets it and goes after it.
As a side note, Deans parents split when he was 10, perhaps a reason why he wants to fight more as aspoosed to Cindy who’s parents stayed together but were miserable and she even states in the film that she doesn’t ever what to end up like them. Perhaps another reason why she is ready to end her own suffering.