Review: Blue Valentine (15)*****

Couples rarely share an epiphany when the fire goes out of their love affair. It's nearly always a one-way street. Such is the awakening experienced by Cindy and, eventually, husband Dean in Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance's extraordinarily nuanced portrait of a marriage unravelling as neither partner is able to prevent it.

Cianfrance and co-writers Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne embark on a journey through an average couple's disintegrating world and underline the emptiness of their existence by re-winding to the early stages of their relationship. What becomes clear is that Cindy has evolved from the carefree young student she once was, becoming a working mother with aspirations about life, career and marriage. Dean exists within a miasma of naivet and fantasy, pretending that his wife is the girl he met and he remains her ideal man.

It's all a blurred reflection of what once was, and Dean attempts to salvage what remains of his life with Cindy by taking her away for a misguided night of passion. It's a disaster that culminates in a moment of explosive jealousy and anger.

A tremendous and heart-rending study of love gone awry, Blue Valentine speaks to everyone who has ever seen the spark go out of passion.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are the couple whose hopes and dreams have faded as their life together has become trampled beneath work and separate desire.

One looks for a better life with the clarity of reality; the other seeks fantasy through rose-tinted spectacles.

Gosling emerges as a man whose goodness has become subsumed beneath latent rage and passive aggression.

Williams is on a treadmill, forever hoping for better but acutely aware that this is all there is. And, deep down, there is the suspicion that she chose the wrong man...

Harrowing and bleak, Blue Valentine traces a desperate journey from youthful promise to weary resignation taken by two kindred spirits who, five years on, have nothing to say to one another.

Rarely have two actors been so utterly in sync. Both Williams and Gosling have been nominated for Golden Globes for their performances, and rightly so. In an ideal world they will also get the nod from Oscar.

Scintillating, fierce and traumatic, this film is so truthful it hurts.