Published on February 6th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
Director Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff, Night Moves) is back with the film Certain Women, a nuanced and beautiful movie with depth of tone and character.
Try as I might, I don’t get to see enough female directors helming films these days, which is an essay unto itself, but Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff, Night Movies) is one of my favourite. In fact, gender aside, she is one of the best filmmakers working right now, but without the flashy moves of a P.T. Anderson or Scorsese, she just doesn’t get the props she deserves. Her brand of storytelling is often in a quieter vein, but also a much deeper one. Many of her characters are lost, forever wandering, in search of something in the wind.
Certain Women follows three different women in Montana, based on stories by Maile Meloy. It’s sort of structured as an anthology, so the women aren’t bumping into each other, Pulp Fiction-style (though there are two slight crossovers, the biggest being with James Le Gros’ character) and each character returns for a coda at the end.
Laura Dern plays a lawyer that’s trying to help a man having a bad year (played by the always incredible Jared Harris) as he slips further into trouble. Michelle Williams is an assertive wife that is building a new house and wants to acquire some sandstone from a neighbour (Rene Auberjonois), while getting annoyed with her husband (Le Gros) for seemingly undermining her efforts. And while Kristen Stewart is the third woman, playing an unsure lawyer who is teaching an adult education class, I’d argue that this is really Lily Gladstone’s story. She plays a sweet, but lonely ranch hand that develops a crush on Stewart’s character and attends the class, though she’s not registered. All these stories are much for fascinating than they are made to sound by my paltry description.
However, this is not the stuff of big dramatic speeches and roaring music and lively colours winding around us to envelop us in a beautiful cinematic escape. This is sad reality, expressed in pauses, people starting out windows, hesitating to speak, and sometimes even by smiling. Certain Women says more without music and dialogue than most movies do with. Of course, that means it has a very deliberate pace, but Reichardt gets to the centre of these characters in tiny moments. If you’re a writer or filmmaker, this is the kind of movie that makes you hate how untalented you really are. I can see why she gets some great actors that want to work with her to inhabit these roles.
The Montana of Certain Women feels very real to me, perhaps because it looks like the Saskatchewan and Alberta I grew up in. It’s not that it’s dirty and depressing or anything, but just that it feels like she walked outside the door and set up a camera, capturing stark, untouched reality. Sometimes it’s a beautiful vista; sometimes it’s a grubby parking lot. And as I noted, rarely is there swelling music to tell you there’s a kettle full of drama about to boil over.
A message to Kelly Reichardt that she’ll never see: I know you’ve had a lot of trouble through the years, getting things made, and that at times it has been discouraging to the point of wanting to quit. Are you like many of your characters, lost in the wind and unsure? I hope you know that there are plenty of us out here in the dark that think you provide a singular filmmaking voice. Keep doing what you do — and know that you and your films are warmly appreciated.