May 22, 2017

SCREEN | 'Certain Women' for Uncertain Times

"Just saw people goin' in."
Kristen Stewart Kelly Reichardt | Certain Women

Oregon filmmaker Kelly Reichardt experty tells the tender Midwest stories of four different women in her latest indie drama, Certain Women. Based on the short story collection of Guggenheim fellow Maile MeloyHalf in Love and Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, Reichardt's film (her sixth) is a deliberately paced character adaptation of small moments and deep emotions.

Certain Women consists of three different, loosely interwoven, character studies set in a small Montana town starring (in order of appearance) Laura Dern as an adulteress small claims lawyer dealing with a disgruntled client (Jared Harris); Michelle Williams building a house with husband James Le Gros and their teenage daughter; and ranch hand Lily Gladstone developing an infatuation with law instructor Kristen Stewart. The understated stories seem small but reveal layers of complex characters and their emotional levity.

The interconnections are subtle but also deliberately revealing. Dern's character is immediately established as having an affair with the husband (Le Gros) of the main character in the second story (Williams) before we see their fractured marriage re-establish itself metaphorically in their efforts to build a new home. The separate but interconnected stories complement each other fluidly.

Kristen Stewart Laura Dern Michelle Williams Kelly Reichardt | Certain Women

The last story featuring Stewart and Gladstone is the longest and, by far, best. It's a quietly moving portrait of desire, longing, and desperation with outstanding performances by the pair. Gladstone's revelatory acting shines in its honest portrayal of loneliness and eagerness deftly.

Shot on 16mm film, cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt frames the picture with a naturalistic small-town authenticity firmly planted in rural Midwestern imagery. While demure in its subdued colour scheme, there is a starkness to the everyday landscape of endless plains and dreary, overcast weather.

Reichardt's attentive storytelling is almost exclusively focused on small details of meaningful character moments and enriching the film's surroundings. Certain Women is entirely about the exploration of feelings of female uncertainty. It's a slow but moody picture in how it uses drama and acceptance to express itself.

Certain Women screens at The Cinematheque until May 25th.

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