Posts Tagged ‘Blue Valentine’

Roger EbertTalking about Roger Ebert, or Ebert saab, as i like to call him, you wonder where to start. It’s quite a daunting task. In the last few years whenever i have read anything written by him, i have always wondered only one thing – how much he writes? No, really – HOW MUCH HE WRITES? He doesn’t eat, drink, or speak, but he keeps on writing – reviews, blogs, books, tweets. No wonder he has left behind such a huge legacy for cinema lovers. Google him and you will get to read so many great articles about him. Search on youtube and there’s so much to watch – him, his shows, interviews, appearances.

With twitter, a different kind of fun began. He never replied to me but you could tag him, tweet to him and troll him. Many times people told me to that look at the old man, how can you troll him? But I always looked at it him in a different way. Why should we have “old-man-who-cant-eat-cant-drink-cant-talk-bechara” attitude towards him? Let’s look at him “normally”. The way we behave with anyone else whom we respect. Am sure he didn’t mind because he also behaved in a similar way – to make it look all normal. Like us, he would happily keep on trolling Mitt Roney non-stop for many days. Once he even tweeted a link to the piece which blamed him for killing film criticism. Like his “your movie sucks” posts, his tweets were fun and snarky. And sometimes controversial too. Aha, he was just like us. At least on twitter. Oh, and like us he pissed off many people too. Remember this post?

I don’t exactly remember when and how i started following his reviews but it’s surely been many many years ago. Though ironical that this blog is named after one of the movies that he never liked. And he kept defending his stand many years later too. I often wondered why, and trolled him every time he wrote or mentioned something about Fight club. A great movie is worth a good fight, right? At least a twitter fight.

Over the years i realised that when he wrote about his life, or life in general, that’s where you could see the real magic in his writing. Things that you have observed, experienced, but could never articulate in words, he did that with much ease and in simple words. And maybe that’s why his reviews had the rare quality of “empathy”. Someone who could sense something so profound in mundane things, how could he not sense that in cinema. “Perceptive” could easily be his middle name.

I also noticed that he always kept the best lines for his last para. Sometimes the review would read like a fairly simple one – the plot, what’s good, what’s bad, and then he would sum it up with a statement that will keep you hooked. You keep on going back to those lines in every discussion about that film. Something that other reviewers rarely managed. It’s like putting a human face to the review. And then sitting close to him, holding his pulse like a good doctor, looking into his eyes, and telling him that let the world misunderstand you, i got you. So am going to quote some of his last lines/para from some of my recent favourite films which have stayed with me for a long time. All because of that humanist touch.

As a friend struggles to come to terms with his abrupt separation and tries to find a reason to justify it, the last two lines of Blue Valentine review never sounded so true.

I wonder what kind of script conferences Cianfrance had with his co-writers, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne. They were writing about something ineffable, a void, a need. This wasn’t a story with convenient hooks involving things like, you know, disease — things stories are familiar with. It was about inner defeat and the exhaustion of hope. I’ve read reviews saying Cianfrance isn’t clear about what went wrong as they got from there to here. Is anybody?

From We Need To Talk About Kevin

Eva often looks like she’s in a state of shock. Her body can’t absorb more punishment. She is the wrong person in the wrong life with the wrong child. Is her husband as zoned out as he seems or is that only her perception? As a portrait of a deteriorating state of mind, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a masterful film. Swinton told me of a line in the script that wasn’t used, wisely, I believe. After you see the film, think about it. She asks Kevin why he didn’t kill her. His reply: “You don’t want to kill your audience.”

The pure epic last line from Jero Dreams Of Sushi review

Standing behind his counter, Jiro notices things. Some customers are left-handed, some right-handed. That helps determine where they are seated at his counter. As he serves a perfect piece of sushi, he observes it being eaten. He knows the history of that piece of seafood. He knows his staff has re??cently started massaging an octopus for 45 minutes and not half an hour, for example. Does he search a customer’s eyes for a signal that this change has been an improvement? Half an hour of massage was good enough to win three Michelin stars. You realize the tragedy of Jiro Ono’s life is that there are not, and will never be, four stars.

And that simple and profound statement for Herzog in “Into The Abyss” review

Opposition to the death penalty, in part, comes down to this: No one deserves to be assigned the task of executing another person. I think that’s what Captain Allen is saying. Herzog may agree, although he doesn’t say so. In some of his films he freely shares his philosophy and insights. In this film, he simply looks. He always seems to know where to look.

From   Drive review

An actor who can fall in love with a love doll and make us believe it, as he did in “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007), can achieve just about anything. “Drive” looks like one kind of movie in the ads, and it is that kind of movie. It is also a rebuke to most of the movies it looks like.

From Inception review

The movies often seem to come from the recycling bin these days: Sequels, remakes, franchises. “Inception” does a difficult thing. It is wholly original, cut from new cloth, and yet structured with action movie basics so it feels like it makes more sense than (quite possibly) it does. I thought there was a hole in “Memento:” How does a man with short-term memory loss remember he has short-term memory loss? Maybe there’s a hole in “Inception” too, but I can’t find it. Christopher Nolan reinvented “Batman.” This time he isn’t reinventing anything. Yet few directors will attempt to recycle “Inception.” I think when Nolan left the labyrinth, he threw away the map.

From Revolutionary Road

The direction is by Sam Mendes, who dissected suburban desperation in “American Beauty,” a film that after this one seems merciful. The screenplay by Justin Haythe is drawn from the famous 1961 novel by Richard Yates, who has been called the voice of the postwar Age of Anxiety. This film is so good it is devastating. A lot of people believe their parents didn’t understand them. What if they didn’t understand themselves?

From Man Push Cart review

Bahrani was inspired by “The Myth of Sisyphus,” by Albert Camus, the story of a man who spends his life pushing a rock up a hill, only to see it roll down again, and only push it back up again. Well, what else can he do? “Man Push Cart” is not an indictment of the American economy or some kind of political allegory. It is about what it is about. I think the message may be that it is better, after all, to push the cart than to face a life without purpose at the bottom of the hill.

From About Schmidt review

“About Schmidt” is billed as a comedy. It is funny to the degree that Nicholson is funny playing Schmidt, and funny in terms of some of his adventures, but at bottom it is tragic. In a mobile home camp, Schmidt is told by a woman who hardly knows him, “I see inside of you a sad man.” Most teenagers will probably not be drawn to this movie, but they should attend. Let it be a lesson to them. If they define their lives only in terms of a good job, a good paycheck and a comfortable suburban existence, they could end up like Schmidt, dead in the water. They should start paying attention to that crazy English teacher.

From The Savages

“The Savages” confronts a day that may come in all of our lives. Two days, actually, the first when we are younger, the second when we are older. “The Ballad of Narayama,” a great Japanese film, is about a community that decides when a person has outlived any usefulness and leaves that person on the mountain to die. It seems cruel, but even the dying seem to think it appropriate. Better that, after being healthy and strong once, than to be reduced to writing on walls with excrement.

Lars And The Real Girl

How this all finally works out is deeply satisfying. Only after the movie is over do you realize what a balancing act it was, what risks it took, what rewards it contains. A character says at one point that she has grown to like Bianca. So, heaven help us, have we.

 If we can feel that way about a new car, why not about a lonely man’s way to escape from sitting alone in the dark?

The Squid and the Whale review

These kids will be okay. Someday Bernard and Joan will be old and will delight in their grandchildren, who will no doubt be miserable about the flaws and transgressions of Walt and Frank, and then create great achievements and angry children of their own. All I know is, it is better to be the whale than the squid. Whales inspire major novels.

There are many such other reviews with some great lines. These were just few of those which were on top of my mind. If you got a favourite one, do post it in the comments section.

And talking about last few lines, let me end this post with last lines from his essay on Death which he wrote for Salon. He surely knew it all – life, cinema, and his death too. It’s eerie. You can read the entire piece here.

Someday I will no longer call out, and there will be no heartbeat. I will be dead. What happens then? From my point of view, nothing. Absolutely nothing. All the same, as I wrote to Monica Eng, whom I have known since she was six, “You’d better cry at my memorial service.” I correspond with a dear friend, the wise and gentle Australian director Paul Cox. Our subject sometimes turns to death. In 2010 he came very close to dying before receiving a liver transplant. In 1988 he made a documentary named “Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh.” Paul wrote me that in his Arles days, van Gogh called himself “a simple worshiper of the external Buddha.” Paul told me that in those days, Vincent wrote:

Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.

Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?

Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means.

To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

That is a lovely thing to read, and a relief to find I will probably take the celestial locomotive. Or, as his little dog, Milou, says whenever Tintin proposes a journey, “Not by foot, I hope!”


“This is how a working class love story should be”, Subrat messaged after watching Blue Valentine. “Wow! Post ?” I replied back. And here it is. If you have seen it, read the post to fall in love with it, all over again. If you haven’t, do watch it. Was also wondering how in the last few years there has been a constant flow of good cinema thats exploring the “couples’ code” – all about man, woman and child. Away We Go, Revolutionary Road, Blue Valentine, Rabbit Hole and The Kids Are All Right. Where’s our code ?

Read on…

You are left stranded at the end. Fireworks go up in the sky. The closing credits come on with a tune that sounds familiar. It takes you a while to figure it’s the same tune that Dean (Ryan Gosling) played on his ukulele years ago while serenading Cindy (Michelle Williams) who dances at the doorway of a shop. And, you return to Apollinaire’s query – does joy always come after pain? Or, as you have just discovered in Blue Valentine, does pain inevitably follow joy? The title places ‘Valentine’ after ‘Blue’ which suggests the filmmaker nodding in assent to Apollinaire. But that’s deceiving.

On the surface, you see two stories in Blue Valentine. These are stories you’ve seen often. Of falling in love and falling out of it. Yet, in examining this over familiar terrain, in twisting and turning it under a steady unemotional gaze, Blue Valentine succeeds in creating compelling cinema.

There’s the present day story of Dean and Cindy. Seemingly, of everyday domesticity on an early summer morning. Their daughter is searching for their pet dog which has run off. You notice the house, the instant breakfast that Cindy rustles up and you sense indifference. Soon, you find the dog dead and Dean doesn’t have the heart to break the truth to his daughter. ‘She must have moved to Hollywood to become a movie dog. She had the looks’, he says.

You are then transported 6 years back in time. There is no reference though to this switching back. With the screen brightening up a touch more, you see a younger Dean looking for a job in a house-moving company. You are in the familiar boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love territory now. From here on, the film moves back and forth between these two stories of love blossoming and souring, the sweet to the tart without showing us anything that happened in the intervening years.

How does love seep away from a relationship? There’s never a single reason for it. It’s natural erosion. When you see Dean and Cindy falling in love, you might spot the seeds of future discord. Cindy’s desire to study and move up in life is in contrast to the slacker Dean who seems to be good at things but is bereft of ambition. There’s undeniable chemistry between the two but there’s something uncomfortable as you watch them. As the film flips between the two stories, you conclude that all the old adages about love are exactly the reasons why love sours. That love makes you a better person, that love can reform, that love conquers all – each one of them bites the dust. These are all predicated on a colossal lie – of people being made for each other. The film helps you with the benefit of hindsight to see through this lie. But leaves it for the protagonists to discover it as they live through it. That’s the beauty of this script.

As you watch Dean winning his daughter’s love and trust, you see the lie being played all over again. And you can’t help but pity the human impulse. Of deceit forming the premise for all love. We have all lived through it yet when the opportunity presents itself again, we willingly submit ourselves to another lie. Why, come to think of it, even that anthem of first love in Hindi cinema, ‘Pehla Nasha’, is a charade. Nothing is quite as it seems for the three characters in that song.

What aids this clinical exposition of love is the way the characters are etched in Blue Valentine. There’s a visible streak of misogyny that runs through the film. The emotional stack is loaded in favor of Dean. He marries Cindy despite knowing the truth at the abortion clinic. it’s Dean who is shown to be perfectly in sync with his daughter’s hopes and desires. And, he is expressly demonstrative about making the marriage work. You are emotionally invested in Dean from the very beginning. The artless way he admits to not being good enough for Cindy when he proposes to her at her home to his helplessness at the end when he asks Cindy – ‘how should I be’? The story ends too with a definite sense of loss for Dean that tugs at your heartstrings. This is a departure from how a typical marital discord story unspools where the emotional cards are equally dealt to make sure both the protagonists have a good hand (take Kramer vs Kramer as an example). However, if you look closer, you will find the prime mover through the entire film is Cindy. She is the one who makes all the choices in the film. She is willing to live through the consequences of those choices and is unafraid of confronting the truth. While on one hand it’s a subtle inversion of roles, on the other, it’s very clever scripting.

Blue Valentine is a film of deft touches. You almost feel there’s deliberate foolish manner in which love is depicted through the film. The scene of Dean strumming on his ukulele and singing while Cindy dances is not romantic for the viewers. The singing is bad and the dancing pedestrian. You almost feel embarassed to watch the silly couple falling in love there. The motel sequence with its space age suite where Dean and Cindy go to reignite the sparks in their marriage is clumsy and makes you squirm. There’s nothing grand about love and you are constantly reminded about it. The irony of the relationship between Dean and their daughter while you know of Cindy’s backstory is again never once brought up. The playing up of the father-daughter relationship is done so naturally that you forget the truth about their daughter in the last scene of the film.

You will find a similar trick played on you in Rabbit Hole, another film this year that had a beautiful subtle ending. You also sense the way fate mocks at Cindy – from wanting to study medicine, to making that life changing choice at the abortion clinic to ending up as a nurse at a maternity center.

It’s easy to call Blue Valentine a film that’s rich in subtext. That would, however, be simplifying things. Blue Valentine is not an ambitious film. Our ambitions are always an imagined superlative form of what we actually are. Instead, Blue Valentine, is a introspective film. It chooses to pose uncomfortable questions about our normal selves. It shows you the truth once the varnish wears off.

“Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.” You will find that line in Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. You can read that line many times over today and still not get what he meant there. Then one day you find yourself in a old Mumbai home on Napean Sea Road. You see two sepia tinted photographs of a couple. Both shot at the same location – the now closed Cafe Naaz with the iconic Queen’s Necklace as the backdrop. May be ten years apart. You look closely at the two pictures. And, you understand what Kundera meant.

Or, you can watch Blue Valentine.

(Ed – Click here to read all about the making of the film. It’s a must read!)