Monday, November 7, 2016

Certain Women

Certain Women
seen @ Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn NY

Kelly Reichardt would've been a great Italian neo-realist. Her films have a spartan, stripped-down look as far removed from Hollywood gloss as you can get. I'm sure that's probably deceptive. As lean as Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff, and her new one, Certain Women, look, she has to think about composition, lighting, sound and all that stuff like any other director. Still, much of the time, she makes it look relatively simple.

A hallmark of Reichardt's films is the way she makes her characters work. Obviously all movies have action, but she places a strong emphasis on people doing everyday things and showing us the simple truth of it, unadorned and unblinking. If you've seen her films, this will make more sense than the poor way I'm describing this trait.

For example, for me the most memorable moment of Meek was watching Michelle Williams load a rifle with gunpowder and shoot it, all in a single take, and all in a bit of a hurry. Williams, a 21st century woman, had to learn how to do this 19th century task for this movie and make it look real. Nor does Reichardt cut it in a stylish way or any other way. She just points the camera and shoots, and we watch Williams do the whole thing. That's what I mean by the truth of a task.

Women has comparable moments. Lily Gladstone's character is a rancher. We see her do all the things associated with that job, including feeding and tending the horses, and driving a tractor. We get long, silent takes of nothing more than her at her job. This is the kind of thing I've come to think of when regarding Reichardt and her films.

Women is an anthology of short, interconnected stories set in Montana, of all places. The majestic mountain ranges loom proudly in the background of all three stories. Laura Dern is a lawyer called in to negotiate a hostage situation involving one of her clients; Williams, Reichardt's muse throughout all of her films to date, is in the process of building a new home for her family; and Kristen Stewart is a night school teacher who's the object of Gladstone's secret affection.

My descriptions make Women sound more exciting, perhaps, than it is. I knew the kind of film to expect - I enjoyed Wendy and Lucy and Meek wasn't bad either - but with Women I kinda hoped for something more... I dunno. Substantial? These women's lives are interesting in their own little ways, but I wouldn't call them cinematic based on the slivers we're given.

Dern's hostage situation involves only one hostage, and neither his nor her lives ever feel threatened in any way. Williams and her husband quarrel, but even though hubby looks like he's having an affair with Dern, nothing is made of this. And though Gladstone comes to realize Stewart doesn't return her affections, she doesn't do anything about it except return to her life on the ranch. So while I don't necessarily feel this film was a waste of my time, I don't know what I'm supposed to get out of it either.

Vija and the rest of the crew saw it before I did. I was unable to see it with them. In talking about the movie with me on Facebook, Vija made the point that "we are so used to seeing blockbusters that when you see a movie about emotions and everyday life, it may feel small, but it isn't.... This is not an easy film and it veers away from stereotypes."

She also thought the film was (mostly) about obsession: Dern's client's obsession to obtain justice from the corporation that wronged him, Gladstone's obsession with Stewart. And she believed Dern's affair wasn't meant to be a thing. So maybe she gets it more than I do.

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