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'Valentine' takes risks, explores intimacy at AFF

Charles Ealy
'Blue Valentine' director Derek Cianfrance shows the distance between the characters by placing cameras far away.

Few recent movies are as emotionally raw as "Blue Valentine," which will unspool Friday night at the Austin Film Festival.

Director Derek Cianfrance brings the film to Austin amid a flurry of publicity related to its recent NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.

And although the reasons for the restrictive rating haven't been explained, many critics have speculated that a shower scene between the two stars, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, led to the MPAA decision.

As festivalgoers will see tonight, however, "Blue Valentine" is not prurient. Instead, it's a study of emotional catharsis, similar to what director John Cassavetes achieved in the 1968 classic "Faces."

Williams and Gosling play Cindy and Dean, a couple having marital difficulties. At Dean's suggestion, they rent a room in a make-out motel. Cindy, however, finds the situation less than romantic and is distant when her husband joins her in the shower.

Cianfrance, Williams and Gosling, who discussed making the movie at the Cannes Film Festival in May, say the scene took nearly all day to get right.

"The first two hours were awkward but not in the right way," Cianfrance says. "And after seven hours of being in front of a crew, Michelle and Ryan were emotionally naked."

Gosling says that the days leading up to the scene made the actors feel like they were approaching "doomsday."

"We knew we were going to have to get totally naked in front of each other, and we'd both been putting on weight (for roles as an older couple), and it wasn't going to go well," Gosling says. "And I didn't expect the hotel soap to be so \u2026 harsh. We were just there all day and started getting rashes."

Williams, who first started discussing the "Blue Valentine" script six years ago, agrees that the harsh soap "added another level of awful." But she says that she "always wanted to make this movie, and I knew what it involved."

She says she sees her character, Cindy, as a woman who has been stifled, who has gotten pregnant early in life and feels trapped and emotionally unfulfilled.

"The problem for Cindy is the force of the past," she says. "She's never gotten to experience herself, to grow. It's like she's holding her breath."

Cianfrance agrees. "I see Cindy as a pot of boiling water with a lid on it."

To make Cindy and Dean's married life seem more realistic, Cianfrance and his producers rented a home where Williams and Gosling lived during the filming.

"They set it up so that we'd get to know each other," Gosling says. "And we'd do all those things that make couples want to kill each other. We'd have fight days."

The movie goes back and forth in time, with the scenes of their early life and romance providing levity amid the gloom of their present relationship.

And the scenes in the present look much different from those in the past.

"I wanted to shoot the past on film," Cianfrance says. "I used digital for the present. It's like a duet between a man and woman, the past and the present."

For the past, "we shot the master shots with a handheld camera to get a visceral feel," he says. "It's how you'd feel if you're younger."

"For the present, we used two red (digital) cameras, on tripods, placed far away from the actors," Cianfrance says, to highlight the distance in the marriage.

Williams says she hopes that people will see the movie as an effort at exploring intimacy.

"I think people are starved for intimacy," she says. "That's what people want in movies. Even if it's awful, we still want to see it."

‘Blue Valentine'

9:30 p.m. Friday at the Paramount, 713 Congress Ave.

Director Derek Cianfrance will attend the screening.

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Other Austin Film Festival & Conference highlights today

9 a.m.: ‘A Conversation with John Lee Hancock.'

Noon: Kenneth Turan and the Ransom Center present 1957's ‘Sweet Smell of Success.'

1:45 p.m.: ‘A Conversation with Phil Rosenthal' (‘Exporting Raymond').

2 p.m.: ‘Hello Lonesome,' a moving, narrative film that looks at the lives of six people who struggle for love. Directed by Adam Reid.

3:30 p.m.: ‘Goodbye, Cruel World (Adiós Mundo Cruel),' a funny/sad Mexican feature focusing on the travails of a mild-mannered, laid-off accountant.

4 p.m.: ‘Ballhawks,' a documentary about baseball fans outside Wrigley Field.

4:45 p.m.: The Film Texas BBQ Supper at the French Legation.

6 p.m.: ‘Embargo,' a narrative film about a man who becomes stuck in his car during a gasoline crisis. Based on the novel by José Saramago.

6 p.m.: ‘Shelter in Place,' a documentary about civil rights, pollution and corporations.

7 p.m.: ‘Make Believe,' a documentary about six young magicians in a competition.

7 p.m.: ‘Peep World,' a comedy about a family struggling with revelations made in one of the children's newly published novel.

7:45 p.m.: ‘The Space Between,' a feature about a flight attendant and a young boy who bond on Sept. 11, 2001. Melissa Leo stars.

9 p.m.: ‘When Harry Tries to Marry,' a feature about an Indian American who agrees to an arranged marriage.

9:30 p.m.: ‘Dig,' a feature from Stephen Belyeu, focusing on a family's tale of love and loss in South Texas.

9:45 p.m.: ‘An Ordinary Couple,' a documentary about gay marriage and a couple in L.A.

11 p.m.: ‘Re-Cut,' a horror film debut from director Fritz Manger.

Information:www.austinfilmfestival.com