Kelly Reichardt takes an appraising look at four women’s lives in Certain Women‘s intriguingly overlapping stories.
Still Lifeby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Long, slow takes create space for the camera to observe in the lives of four women in Kelly Reichardt’s adaptation of short stories by Maile Meloy from a collection titled Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. Set in remote snowy Montana, Certain Women opens as a train hoots its way across a wide, open prairie ringed with snow-capped peaks. It sets the scene for a visit to life in a small, dull Western town and its intermittent call, heard occasionally in the distance, is a subtle link between the stories.
The three stories overlap gently. Laura Dern is lawyer Laura in the first. She is kind-hearted and patient with a demanding, irrational client (Jared Harris) who will not accept her advice that he no longer has an injury-at-work claim to compensation. In the second we see that Gina (Michelle Williams) is married to Ryan (James Le Gros), the man that Laura seemed to be in an adulterous relationship with in the first story. This knowledge means that we doubt that their house-building project – and trying to persuade an old man to sell them his blocks of authentic aged sandstone – is actually on as firm a foundation as she assumes. The third opens with slow close ups of feet and hooves moving through stables as it takes us into the world of a woman whose name we never learn, a native American rancher (newcomer Lily Gladstone), who on impulse strays into an evening class at the local school and is drawn to Kristen Stewart’s young lawyer who is teaching it to earn extra money, despite it being a gruelling four-hour drive there from Livingston, the city where she lives and works.
The everyday routine of work, yearning for something and not knowing what it is, disappointed hopes, maybe male chauvinism – these women’s stories are inconclusive and allusive, yet their lives go on and there’s a pervasive poignancy to them. There’s a scene of dramatic action involving hostages, but what’s really important in the film is all internal and Reichardt’s direction and the excellent performances of all four women give us the time to see below the surface and start to feel how these women themselves experience their lives. Reichardt’s ‘slow cinema’, as in her previous Meek’s Cutoff has a slow burn that lingers in the memory.
Certain Women is released on 3 March 2016 in the UK.