Review: Certain Women (2016)

Certain Women (2016)

Directed by: Kelly Reichardt | 107 minutes | drama | Actors: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Lily Gladstone, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, John Getz, Matt McTighe, Joshua T. Fonokalafi, Sara Rodier, Rene Auberjonois, Zena Dell Low, Edelen McWilliams, Guy Boyd, Ashlie Atkinson James Jordan, Stephanie Campbell, Kitty Reidy, Marceline Hugot, Kory Gunderson, Gabriel Clark

Kelly Reichardt makes films about people. That may seem obvious, but it is not in the stylized film world. Form starts with choices: the time that a shot lasts, the focus on the environment or characters, background sounds. In ‘Certain Women’, for example, you don’t see the majestic highlands of Montana in razor-sharp and panoramic view, but as a passer-by sees it. He doesn’t zoom in from his car or stop for seconds to look into the distance, the environment flashes by as a backdrop or is enjoyed at shooting distance. Take car conversations or footsteps. These are often amplified or muted in film; in ‘Certain Women’ you hear a conversation in the back seat as vague as in reality, disturbed by engine roar.

Footsteps in an otherwise silent space, and there are quite a few in this film, you hear again as the dominant element. It soon becomes apparent how strongly and complex these choices influence our perception process. ‘Certain Women’ is a film that demands concentration, and cannot be enjoyed with a summary. It must be undergone in silence.
Is this enough for a good movie? No: even though ‘Certain Women’ is carried on by the finer points of indie drama (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart), the film also suffers from a certain incongruity. Perhaps that was the intention, of which more.

The search for meaning of three women in sparsely populated Montana is looking at pets that have been released into the wild, perform the acts of their wild counterparts, but are actually detached. The most impressive is Dern, a lawyer who survives with perseverance in an unambitious environment. Her part of the film would have sufficed for the character of ‘Certain Women’, otherwise mainly a sample of non-verbal communication in a world where people are waiting for Godot. Initially Michelle Williams (a ‘regular’ in Reichardt’s films) is given the same amount of leeway, but later rightly returned to Dern; Stewart’s part is less elaborate. Kelly Reichardt looks concentrated, sketches and creates atmosphere, but leaves it at that.

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