Debut feature filmmaker Derek Cianfrance brutally charts a romantic relationship in freefall with the devastating drama Blue Valentine.
Why do relationships break down? What causes people to fall out of love? These are just a couple of the questions that director Derek Cianfrance explores in his new film, Blue Valentine, which earned critical raves at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling play a couple whose marriage, once vibrant and passionate, now seems irreparably fractured. Structured like a mystery, and told through flashbacks, Cianfrance's emotionally honest film has earned him comparisons to the great John Cassavetes. "I started writing the film because when I was a kid, I had two nightmares," says Cianfrance. "One was about nuclear war, and the other was that my parents would get a divorce. When I was twenty-years-old, they did split up. As a young man trying to move forward in my own relationships, I felt like I had to confront those fears that I had as a kid. So I started working on it."
That was back in 1998. Obstacles such as bankruptcy (not his), sackings, and a death, not to mention dozens and dozens of rejections, are just a few of the reasons that the film languished in limbo for so long. "For a long time, the film felt cursed," says Cianfrance. "Studios would say to me, ‘What's the hook?' I'd say, ‘There's no hook.' Then they'd ask, ‘Why do they break up? Can't she cheat on him or something?' I never wanted to give it a reason because I feel like that disrespects what it is. The story is about the mystery of what happens."
Cianfrance admits that the extended pre-production period turned out to be a blessing in disguise, simply because twelve years ago, he wasn't ready to make this film. "I originally started making documentaries because I had to earn money," he says. "That transformed me as a filmmaker. Documentary film taught me how to take the whole world and filter it and really listen and pay attention to what was going on. My training in documentary films prepared me to be able to make the film that I wanted to make. I also got married and had children in that time. I wouldn't have been able to tell the story as honestly without the life experience that I've had."
Did he ever consider using different actors? "I was close to making it with other great actors, but I would always pull the plug right before we'd do it because it just wasn't right," Cianfrance replies. "I always had the belief that Ryan and Michelle would have that chemistry together, even though I'd never seen them together. Maybe it was just knowing each of them and knowing their hearts. They're such beautiful people."
While it all worked out for the best, you wonder if Cianfrance ever thought about walking away from the whole thing. "I'm a very stubborn person," he laughs. "That was my motivating factor. I'd be a fraud if I didn't finish it because I told so many people about it over the years, and everyone thought that I was delusional because I stuck to this same idea and this same thing. I had to do it."
Blue Valentine is released on December 26. For more on Derek Cianfrance, be sure to pick up our huge Jan/Feb double issues on sale now!