Derek Cianfrance focuses on cycles, evolution in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ 

Derek Cianfrance attends the New York opening of “The Place Beyond the Pines.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Derek Cianfrance attends the New York opening of “The Place Beyond the Pines.”

Derek Cianfrance’s new film, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” is going to mess with people’s expectations.

In his followup to the powerful “Blue Valentine,” which went back and forth between two timelines, Cianfrance again plays with structure.

“I was conscious not to repeat the same structure, but I’m still a structuralist,” says Cianfrance, recently in The City to promote the movie.

“I’m fascinated by the shape of things. Whereas ‘Blue’ was a duet, this is a triptych. It’s also a film about lineage, so I felt it needed to be linear,” he says.

Ryan Gosling stars as a motorcycle stunt rider who begins robbing banks. Then the film leaves him behind and focuses on a cop (Bradley Cooper). The third part examines the lives of both men’s teen sons.

Given that the movie covers a large span of time, Cianfrance was careful about pacing, letting each individual moment breathe, rather than quickly skimming ahead.

“Even when I watch it, I would like to live in the moments longer,” he admits. “I love unbroken takes. There’s not as much manipulation in them.”

He even shot a key motorcycle chase scene in long takes,  increasing the danger and realism of the scene.

Cianfrance and Gosling first bonded over the motorcycle idea. At a 2007 dinner, discussing “Blue Valentine,” Gosling confessed to Cianfrance he had a fantasy about robbing a bank; he proceeded to describe exactly the technique that was been written in the first draft of “The Place Beyond the Pines.”

“I told him, ‘I can make your dreams come true,’” Cianfrance says. “I knew we were destined to make movies together.”

The director was a bit more reluctant about casting Cooper. “The guy from ‘The Hangover?’” Cianfrance laughs.

But Cooper’s transformation on the screen is so subtle, he’s almost unrecognizable. “When I first met with him, I realized there was so much more inside him than anyone knows. I rewrote the script for him,”  Cianfrance says.

The film’s title refers to the New York city of Schenectady — an Iroquois word that means “beyond the pine plains” — and where the story is set.

“It’s also about evolution, growth and legacy,” Cianfrance says. “With ‘Blue Valentine’ I was dealing with my parents’ divorce. I was trying to not repeat the cycle.”

He adds, “This movie is also about the cycle. I don’t think you can break the cycle, but you can evolve. It can be like rings of a tree. It’s the same circle, but it gets bigger.”

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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