In Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine we witness both the birth and death of a relationship. Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) have been together for five years, but their marriage is now reaching breaking point, with the nadir coming during a misguided romantic evening at a cheesy hotel that is painful to watch.
Cianfrance observes this disintegrating couple with unflinching honesty, even threatening to drive the conflict too far at times, but the raw emotion of these scenes is balanced by our view of their budding romance, with the director cutting away to flashbacks at emotionally potent moments. In both of the film's narrative strands, Gosling and Williams are authentic and touching, marking the passage of time through their altered physical appearance and creating a moving portrait of a couple struggling to come to terms with the loss of a love that once burned bright. Blue Valentine is a tough and tender drama that doesn't pull any punches, and it's a thrill to see two of the best actors of their generation going toe-to-toe. [Philip Concannon]