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If there’s still life in independent American cinema, Derek Cianfrance’s stunningly beautiful Blue Valentine points the way. It was a great way to open the incredibly eclectic Milwaukee Film Festival, a movie that showed how the essentials of cinema – story, character, acting – are enough to create an almost overwhelming experience. A love story […]

If there’s still life in independent American cinema, Derek Cianfrance’s stunningly beautiful Blue Valentine points the way. It was a great way to open the incredibly eclectic Milwaukee Film Festival, a movie that showed how the essentials of cinema – story, character, acting – are enough to create an almost overwhelming experience.

A love story that elegantly alternates between the high and low points of a relationship (separated by around six years), Blue Valentine has choice parts for two of the best actors in American film – Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. He’s a working-class guy from New York from a broken home. She’s a nurse from small-town Pennsylvania who once dreamed of being a doctor. When we first meet them, they have a 5-year-old daughter, a dog and the terse and strained day-to-day of most young families. Cianfrance (he wrote the script with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne) drops in elements of character with gentle precision, and Gosling and Williams are able to suggest the relationship’s tenderness and tensions in the family dynamic that unfolds in a short school-day morning.

But even as the tensions mount, we see the couple’s history in all its richness as Cianfrance takes us back to their first meeting and courtship. And the film alternates between the past and the now that paints a devastatingly truthful picture of love and family. There are moments of giddy charm (an impromptu street-corner tap dance) and devastating sadness. But Gosling and Williams opt for emotional truth rather than grandstanding. Which is probably why (sigh) some reviewers at Sundance said that the movie was too subtle to attract Oscar attention.

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Don’t listen to them. If anything is right in Hollywood right now, Blue Valentine will reap rewards and draw crowds, and show other filmmakers that there’s much to be gained by making a film that tells simple truths about the striving, flawed folks that inhabit this hard life.

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