Certain Women

Studio: Criterion

Oct 18, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

As one of the few consistently active female auteurs in American cinema, it would be easy to call Kelly Reichardt a “woman’s director.” That label could be applied all the more readily following her latest film Certain Women, a trio of vignettes exploring the lives of several female characters in and around the city of Livingston, Montana. Although the film contains a handful of moments specific to the experiences of women, Reichardt is more concerned with depicting universal ideas of loneliness, compassion and loss.

Continuing her career-long exploration of the Pacific Northwest, Reichardt shifts her focus east to the flat plains and endless empty roads of Montana. Although it frames the state as a place of isolation and modesty, scenes of Certain Woman could easily double as a bucolic tourism video for its big skies and looming mountains. Reichardt’s painterly eye for landscapes asserts itself in the film’s first frames, which feature a locomotive train slowly approaching the foreground as it moves across a vast open prairie. The scene is a microcosm of Reichardt’s approach to her environments and the people that inhabit them; unhurried and quiet, with great attention paid to space and silence.

Linked more by location and mood than by theme or narrative, the stories that form the triptych of Certain Women are minor affairs, more concerned with imparting a feeling to the audience than a lesson or moral. The first stars Laura Dern as a small-town lawyer assisting a disgruntled client who’s been bamboozled by his former employers. The second features Michelle Williams attempting to secure a load of local sandstone from an elderly man to use in building her new house. The final story revolves around a lonely Native American ranch hand who becomes enamored with the woman who teaches her adult-ed class, played by Kristen Stewart. Williams’ story feels the least essential of the three, but both Dern and Stewart’s segments feel as though they could support features of their own. Laura Dern continues her recent resurgence - Dernaissance? - as one of the strongest actresses of her generation and Kristen Stewart again reminds that her fumbling awkwardness can be deeply affecting when properly channeled and directed. The scenes between her exhausted, shabbily dressed teacher and Lily Gladstone’s achingly earnest student are the films’ most engrossing and heartbreaking. The honesty of the performances and the surety of Reichardt’s direction makes this her most accessible film, despite it featuring both a hostage situation and a car accident that happen in almost total natural silence.

Criterion’s 2K digital transfer of Certain Women is a wonderful complement to the gorgeous landscapes featured in the film. The special features are simple but informative, as befits the film itself. Short interviews with Reichardt and producer Todd Haynes contextualize the production and themes of the film, but the most interesting is an interview with Maile Meloy - sister of Decemberists front-man Colin Meloy - the writer upon whose short stories the film was based. She discusses various changes to her original work and the way in which Reichardt was able to capture her words in film.



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