SFF 2016 Review: Certain Women

Sydney Film Festival 2016: Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt’s deliberate pace emphasises the strength of the characters in this measured study.

The long and slow shot of an approaching train sets the pace for CERTAIN WOMEN, something that followers of the “quiet filmmaker” Kelly Reichardt should be well familiar with. Meek’s Cutoff, Reichardt’s exploration of women travelling across the Oregon Trail in 1845, used a measured pace to tell the story of forgotten pioneers in an unconventional way, never giving the audience easy answers. So too is the case with this film, based on Maile Meloy’s collection of short stories, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. A series of vignettes follows lawyer Laura (Laura Dern), who must deal with a client who feels his workers compensation claim is unjust. Couple Gina (Michelle Williams) and Ryan (James LeGros) are attempting to build a new house, but their attempt to buy sandstone from the elderly Albert (René Auberjonois) are fraught, shining a light on their relationship issues. Finally, an unnamed ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) becomes infatuated with Beth Lewis (Kristen Stewart), a lawyer who drives four hours twice a week to teach an adult education class in a small town.

CERTAIN WOMEN is almost the antithesis to hyperlinked films, exposing connections between seemingly disparate people but never using them to unveil a universal truth or heavy-handed meaning. Instead, Christopher Blauvelt’s authentic 16mm photography of the mountains and plains of Montana, coupled with a leisurely pacing, creates a hypnotic effect that draws the viewer into the worlds of the four women. Relative newcomer Lily Gladstone is the most tangible creation of this motif, her monotonous and lonely life of tending to animals and farming represents by the repeated imagery of opening a barn door onto otherwise spectacular mountains. From her point of view, the connection she makes with Stewart’s Beth is a significant break to her routine, and the subtle performance in her expression as she proudly rides Beth to a diner on a horse speaks volumes about the size of her world. The heartbreaking reality of their relationship comes later, but Reichardt’s understated tempo leaves no doubt as to the pall of desperation and loneliness that hangs over their fate. Presented without comment or condescension, Reichardt’s film simply lays out these stories in a row as lasered character studies. She once again leaves us with no conclusive answers to her character’s dilemmas, and like all things she does, allows us to come to our own conclusions at a distinct pace.

2016 | US | DIR: Kelly Reichardt | WRITERS: Kelly Reichardt | CAST: Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern | DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes | RATING: ★★★★½ (9/10)