FILM REVIEW: CERTAIN WOMEN (2016) KELLY REICHARDT
By Mamie Heldman
Kelly Reichardt isn’t interested in “clap of thunder-like” climatic moments we are so accustomed to in cinema, but the in-between processes, such as getting from point a to point b. Certain Women is full of slow-rolling anticipation that left me turning over and over the lives of four women in rural Montana. Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladwell all move through their own inner tensions and misconnections as they rather non-display their current existence. Vern plays a lawyer dealing with corporate sexism and a client who briefly holds her hostage, Williams a wife and mother in the middle of building a home to fill a void, and Stewart, a recent law grad who catches the attention of Gladwell, a lonely rancher working in a small town where Stewart takes a teaching position.
Adapted from short stories written by Maile Meloy, the film unfolds in a similar format. Rather than bounce back and forth between storylines, viewers are taken through each narrative as if reading a chapter of a book. There is a diaphanous thread that weaves the three together in a quiet manner without forcing grandeur. What really supported the poetics for me were the choices made by cinematographer Chris Blauvelt, who often collaborates with Reichardt. Filmed in 16mm, there were moments that felt like still photographs, where certain shots served as dual portraits of the women and the vast landscape of Montana. In these subtle moments, the women are portrayed in their connectivity between longing and strength. In a recent press conference with three of the four leading actors, there is a shared sense of vulnerability in what it was like to play Kelly’s characters. Both Stewart and Vern speak to the scenes that really start living due to the absence of action, but the riveting quietude. It’s the “life that happens in the pauses”, as Vern calls it that Kelly conquers so well. Rather than reach for resolve, she honors ordinary people who evoke a powerful empathy.