Kelly Reichardt’s anthology drama Certain Women is a quiet film, like many of her other films, but they were never boring even at their worst. Although Reichardt has yet to blow me away, I’ve always seen fragments of excellence arising all throughout her body of work (Wendy and Lucy stands out from the bunch that I’ve seen as the best), all of which were enough to keep me wanting more. Adding more to this streak is Certain Women, an anthology about the lives of ordinary people residing in Montana, immersed within quietness and within no time, forming a connection that almost brought me back to the work of Chantal Akerman. If Reichardt continues on with this streak, then I can only see her work growing better over time.
In Certain Women, we are established a simple setting in a small town looking upon the lives of three different women (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart) – all of whom interconnect with each other through the many directions in which their ordinary routines are taking. Taking its own inspiration from stories written by Maile Meloy, one of the first films that came to my mind was none other than Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, another film which tells of the stories of interconnected, ordinary people who are living in suburban Los Angeles. It was clear from there I knew I were to find so much about Certain Women that I was set to love, for Reichardt’s sharp focus upon ordinary lives flows and connects so seamlessly in the manner that Altman at his very best would do.
A growing sense of disconnect arises that sets the tone for Certain Women, one that establishes a recurring notion upon how generations feel as if they are losing touch upon how the world – as society fills itself up more with a younger period and no longer has a place for the elder generation. Any sense of alienation adds more to the effect that Certain Women plays upon its own viewers for this sense of disconnect which we feel shows how unwilling the world seems to be when it comes to allowing generations to catch on with where things are going for themselves. One moves far too slow, the other too fast, all of which come at hints laid by Reichardt’s beautiful composition of set pieces together with landscapes as well as the evidence of advancing technology and its effect upon the small-town setting.
Yet if there were something that recurs through Certain Women that ultimately allows for such a flow to feel present as we move from story to story, it would be the sense of peace that Reichardt employs all throughout. Reichardt’s films move so quietly but if there was something that ultimately keeps them engaging, it’s the fact that this quietness brings oneself closer to the people whom we are watching as we see their lives are piecing themselves together by their disconnect from the world around them. Reichardt manages to find beauty in the absences of what made these people feel like they had somewhere to go – and at that, it highlights a greater significance for such a work.
For all the slowness that is established at first, it soon grows all the more compelling within due time as we watch how Reichardt depicts what is set to come in each of these women’s lives, all of which are elevated to higher levels with the strengths of the performances employed. Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and newcomer Lily Gladstone all offer what perfectly fits themselves and the material Reichardt is putting into place – for they resemble ordinary lives so much and how their own disconnect helps in bringing us closer to their own stories as they are being told in front of our eyes. And as I bring up the Chantal Akerman comparison in the opening paragraph, I think back towards her own masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, which shows us a housewife doing her chores and then this sense of a repeat brings us closer to what she feels. Maybe it might be too far of a stretch, but I felt a connection in that regard when I watched Certain Women and it only became clearer as these stories when on.
Certain Women is a quiet film, but it’s the sort of quietness that ultimately delivers in such a rewarding manner. It’s the sort of mundane that in some way makes for something beautiful as it brings us to look upon how society is seeing these people and how it feels when one group is unable to catch up with the world around them. Kelly Reichardt continues to fascinate me with all of this sense of ordinance and it reminds me so perfectly of the beauty that can be found in what already is established from the offset as something so bleak. And if she hasn’t blown me away yet (with Wendy and Lucy being the exception for the time being), this streak with where I am seeing her films are going only hints that there will come a time soon enough that she will.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via IFC Films.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay by Kelly Reichardt, from stories by Maile Meloy
Produced by Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani
Starring Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 107 minutes