CERTAIN WOMEN (107 R)
The lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Maile Meloy (short stories), Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern
Directed by indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) and starring Michelle Williams, Laura Dern and Lily Gladstone, Certain Women is a triptych of stories about three women in Montana, the land of bleak-looking towns littered among big open spaces and distant snow-capped mountains.
That there is nothing extraordinary about them is what makes this film extraordinary.
Unconventionally composed as three almost stand-alone tales, the framework reflects Certain Women’s origin as short stories by writer Maile Meloy (sister of Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy).
In the first part, Laura Dern plays a small-town lawyer whose day is occupied by a pestering and volatile client (Jared Harris) while in the second story, Michelle Williams’ character is trying to source local sandstone for the house she is trying to build.
But it’s the final piece that is the most profound. Little-known actor Lily Gladstone is superb as the unnamed rancher whose lonely existence drives her to seek out companionship by chancing upon a night adult education class about school law. Gladstone’s role has very little dialogue but her restrained performance speaks volumes about yearning.
They’re not stories that would traditionally anchor a feature film, they’re more like vignettes, a momentary glimpse into the everyday challenges faced by people who aren’t trying to save the world. In eliciting these affecting performances, Reichardt’s subtle hand guides her actors to portray these modest characters as in sync with their inner strength and with the unpolished Montana landscape.
Except in two short sequences, Reichardt uses only diegetic sound, meaning there is no score or music to underlay the film. But it never feels empty or missing.
Instead, she masterfully uses natural sounds within the world of the film to underscore and add dimension to the scenes — the ever-present sound of freight trains lumbering past, bird song, a streaming creek and the crackling of the car radio.
While there is a strain of minimalism in her direction, it’s still purposeful. At times, Reichardt almost downplays the natural beauty of Montana and she’s unafraid of letting her characters float in and out of the frame but never shifts focus from their stories. Reichardt paints her characters with incredible empathy, filling them with both an everywoman and unique quality that will not fail to resonate with the audience, both male and female.
What Certain Women does most is it reminds us life is primarily made up of little disappointments and small triumphs, not just the grand gestures or heart-stopping tragedies.In a cinema era increasingly leaning towards bombastic blockbusters, Certain Women is understated filmmaking at its best.
– Wenlei Ma, News.com/au