Just saw this flick and was affected by it. Things that interested me:
The combination of airy poetic camera work, a floating story with fractured time and narrative, and a close focus on the romantic relationship which was the story — neither a steady linear progression nor a lack of attention to form, but rather the subjective representation of time and intensity as those two characters would have felt it. The use of music to intensify and poeticize the events, and to make them recognizable to us, without destroying the ethereal mood that brings on the pang of elusive and frustrated desire.
All of which reminded me of the relationship films of Wong Kar-Wai: Happy Together and In the Mood for Love. Even the title, Blue Valentine, with its close association to the iconic music of the 50s and early 60s — that romantic apex of cinematic nostalgia in the 80s and 90s — made me think of the Hong Kong director.
Blue Valentine: A film in which two well-meaning people chafe away each other’s innocence, enthusiasm and charm, leaving only weariness and out-of-control attachment. All those moments of heartbreak, the vast space between potential and permanence — that wistful emphasis on the interplay between two actors, as if the director couldn’t let go of their fate any more than the male character can give the woman he loves enough space to love him back — these touches are what made the film so emotionally resonant.
The 90s saw a rash of flicks influenced by Hong Kong directors like John Woo and Ringo Lam. Tarantino talked about Wong Kar-Wai, and QT’s I’m-the-Rich-Little-of-PoMo schtick occasionally does WKW in the course of doing everyone else, but Blue Valentine is really the first American film I’ve seen that has absorbed, reflected and benefited from Wai’s two most personal films.
Oops. Meant to take out Bitter (read: Fallen) Angel.
I would say Blue Valentine owes just as much to John Cassavetes as it does any Wong Kar-Wai film. I think Cianfrance’s film is going more for a gritty realism that Cassavetes introduced with Shadows and especially Faces in the 60’s. There are some sequences that resemble a Kar-Wai film, like the dancing and singing outside the storefront. But overall it lacks the voice over, pop music, and lush photography of Wong Kar-Wai films. See some Cassavetes and you will see the origin of American films of this variety.
Actually, I did think of Woman under the Influence while watching Blue Valentine, and there were other aspects of the film that reminded me of Cassavettes as well. But having seen and owned films by J.C. over the course of my entire life, beginning with first seeing Husbands on television when I was twelve, I disagree that Blue Valentine is reducible to that specific and particular influence.
I would disagree even if interviews with Cianfrance suggested otherwise, since a director’s mention of Cassavettes is like an actor casually saying they read a lot of Bukowski and Ginsberg — it’s the suggestion that one’s work is informed by the authenticity of, in your words, “gritty” work (though that isn’t my word for Cassavettes). It’s the sort of thing people say (however fatuously) when they wish to distance themselves from the slick vapidity of Hollywood — no matter how close to that vapidity they actually are.
Saying a film “lacks the lush photography and pop music of Wong Kar-Wai” is almost stereotyping that director’s work: You’re leaving out the editing, approach to narrative and tone, for example.
I find the aesthetics of BV’s photography to be informed more by Wong Kar-Wai (who doesn’t always use over-saturated colors; BV’s subdued use of blue for the present, and a slightly different palette for the past, is quietly stylized) than J.C. Ditto the non-linear use of past and present, which Cassavettes would never do for the simple reason he’s always in the present. Ditto the other reasons listed in my previous post, despite J.C.’s importance in the history of American film.
P.S.: Chinese Bookie’s 40s noirish dalliance with time doesn’t function the same way as Kar-Wei or Cianfrance’s post-Nouveau fragmentation; the application seems broadswept by comparison.
Cassavettes’ sense of time seemed to be that of an eternal present; in that, as in life, he was always an actor’s director.
Yeah, you’re not the first person I’ve seen make the Wong connection, so there must be something there.
Hmmm, I’ve never thought about this, but now that I think about it, there are parts of BV that remind me of Happy Together.
@Flaspeneer- I will take a look at Happy Together and In the Mood for Love sometime to more closely compare the films to Blue Valentine. I was mostly referring to the scenes in the present of Blue Valentine that resembled Cassavetes work. The close-ups on Goslinig and Williams in long scenes with them arguing in particular.
That’s an interesting observation. I thought of it as the product of a lot of Bad Timing / John Cassavetes watching, but maybe WKW was the main source of inspiration.
“Blue Valentine” and “Happy Together” are both about romances on the rocks — but that’s about it as far as comparasions are concerned.
The Cassavettes comparison is legitimate—I certainly did not watch Blue Valentine with the feeling that I had never seen anything like it—but I was also very moved by this film. I think showing only the beginning and end worked beautifully, and of course the acting was perfection. The cutting between scenes was always done well.
Definitely among my best of 2010 (there are a few I need to see still).
How odd – you say that it’s shallow to attribute beautiful photography with Wong Kar Wai but then say Cassavetes would never use non-linear storytelling. Isn’t that just as stereotypical?
I think the Cassavetes comparison is completely earned. Cianfrance doesn’t merely name drop Cassavetes for indie cred. Blue Valentine was shot exactly the way Cassavetes made his movies! From the 50+ drafts that Cianfrance wrote to the years of working with the actors to living in that house for a month during shooting – that’s about as Cassavetes as you get (at least in terms of mechanics). You can argue that Blue Valentine doesn’t reach the truth of emotion that Cassavetes achieved (although I think that argument is thin – BV evokes an honesty rarely seen in contemporary cinema – especially mumblecore) but I don’t see how can you dismiss Cianfrance’s approach to filmmaking as being anything but influenced by John Cassavetes.
As for Wong Kar Wai, I’m not much of a fan so I can’t really speak to that (although on the surface, I don’t see the comparison).