When I searched using the words 'Blue Valentine' on Twitter early this morning these three comments were among the first 10 going back just three days: Watching Blue Valentine for the nth time: future husband, please reassure me that this won't happen to us; Blue Valentine is so horrible and heartbreaking and saddening and simultaneously really great; Was gonna watch Blue Valentine and then I remembered I don't want to die due to heartache tonight.
The film, which screens this Saturday at 9.30pm on SBS One, tells the beautiful beginning and the brutal breakdown of a relationship. It is a story that most people have experienced or observed in real life yet the potency of these comments reflect how the film, through its authenticity, is so intensely emotional. Some of the ways writer/director Derek Cianfrance achieved that authenticity are fascinating.
“He creates real people with as many memories and detail as possible then puts them in a real-life situation,” says Ryan Gosling, who stars opposite Michelle Williams.
To illustrate this, look for the night-time scene outside the shop: when it was filmed Gosling had no idea that Williams' character could tap dance and she had no idea that his could play the ukulele. Cianfrance had been talking to Gosling and Williams about their characters and the film's themes for about four and six years respectively, but was careful about what information was shared.
He also heightened the reality by having them live in the house for a month so they had that shared experience. They bought groceries – $200 of the budget went on cigarettes for Gosling! – went fishing, had Christmas and made home movies together.
Blue Valentine continually switches back and forth between two time frames, six years apart. The creative team waited a month before filming the breaking up story; Cianfrance argued for waiting six months but was blocked by his financing partners.
Despite all this, he has commented in public that he was relieved that there was “tangible magic” between the pair once they did meet; apparently, one of the most challenging parts of the film for all of them was tearing down the trust so they could begin arguing.
Cianfrance says he loves brave actors willing to be emotionally naked and vulnerable, to confront light and darkness. This pair certainly does in Blue Valentine.
Oh and one more thing: if you're thinking the film might be too distressing to watch given what's said above, bear in mind that Cianfrance has described the ending as hopeful because there's change.
And rest assured that it's exemplary filmmaking.