Certain Women

By the director of Meek's Cutoff and Wendy And Lucy

With her sixth feature, Kelly Reichardt more than ever feels like a director who is using cinema in a way that is wonderfully at odds with our expectations for the medium. While mainstream cinema often feels like an assault, pinning us back in our seats, and her arthouse contemporaries tend to prefer showy gestures and directorial techniques that declaim themselves, Reichardt’s low-key, intimate films draw us in. Her work is subtle, deliberately anti-dramatic. Her approach goes beyond naturalism and lands somewhere between painful introversion and acute empathy. As such, Certain Women won’t appeal to everyone.

Poster for the dramatic triptych Certain WomenBut for those who connect with Reichardt’s approach – and I count myself among them – the film is a minor miracle. Based on the writing of Maile Meloy, it is loosely a triptych of stories in which nothing much happens, full of expressive moments in which nothing is said, but which somehow convey an ache of longing or a small stab of triumph. The tales don’t so much intersect as brush against each other. They unfold in the small-town American northwest and feature four women, who each, in their own way, have something of the unvarnished pioneer spirit that fascinated Reichardt in Meek’s Cutoff.

Laura Dern plays a lawyer wrestling with a troublesome client who seems to view her as an emotional crutch as well as a professional adviser. Michelle Williams, Reichardt’s regular collaborator, is a high-achieving wife and mother designing a weekend retreat in the hills who only subliminally realises the extent of the estrangement between her and the rest of her family. And the extraordinary Lily Gladstone plays a rancher, raised among boys and animals, who doesn’t fully understand what it is she feels when she blunders into a night school legal class and meets the browbeaten teacher, a crumpled, washed-out Kristen Stewart. It’s this final segment, with its melancholy rhythms and lovely, textured performances from Stewart and Gladstone, that elevates the film into the unassuming masterpiece that it is.

– Wendy Ide, The Guardian

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