Certain Women review – quietly mysterious tale of lives on the edge | Drama films | The Guardian
Delicacy, intelligence, compassion, and control is what writer-director Kelly Reichardt brings to her silent yet totally immersive new film about the lives of separated women in the prairie towns of southern Montana. Features Laura Dern as provincial attorney Laura, Michelle Williams as disgruntled wife and mother Gina, and Kristen Stewart as law student and professor Elizabeth.
everything is photographed in a distinctively subdued indie-stonewash color palette, the soundtrack and spoken dialogue are hushed as a murmur, and it’s a film that never forces its emotional effects on us. one of the opening scenes actually contains an armed hostage showdown with a crazy guy, but it’s directed so calmly that it feels like we’re watching a mild disagreement over coffee morning at church. Certain Women is a title with a provisional and open-ended quality. a random sample selection? That is coldly at odds with the obvious fact that Reichardt is very deliberate, very sure, about what and who she wants to show on screen, and how. the “why” is up to us.
is a subtly crafted study of three different lives (really, is that four?) based on short stories by montana author maile meloy from her 2009 collection, either way is the only way i want it . women’s existences do not exactly intersect, nor do they overlap precisely, nor can they precisely be said to interrelate. there is an unaccented asymmetry or structural imbalance in the way they are presented. two of the three are lawyers; two of the three have unsatisfactory men in their lives. the first woman has a secret connection with the second, which colors everything we see in that second woman’s life with hidden bad faith. but there is no comparable link between the second and the third, and only a coincident link between the third and the first. however, there are some patterns: three stories, presented sequentially, then three codas.
It is not a twisted little daisy chain, as in arthur schnitzler’s play la ronde, and is unlike, say, stephen daldry’s formally three-story generational drama, the hours, based on the novel by michael cunningham. It is different from Altman’s lengthy shortcuts, based on Raymond Carver’s stories, closer, perhaps, to Pedro Almodóvar’s Juliet, based on three stories by Alice Munro. Actually, each of these stories reminded me of a miniature version of something like Annie Proulx’s Backless Mountain, filmed by Ang Lee. but perhaps it is the presence of williams that has created this comparison, like a mirage.
dern’s lawyer has an affair in a hotel room with a married man; At his job, he has to represent a carpenter on a construction site, played by Jared Harris, in a personal injury case, which he has no chance of winning, since he has already rashly accepted a small written award. but he won’t take his word for it, he needs to hear it from a male lawyer. Gina’s husband, played by James Le Gros, is no help raising their troubled teenage daughter, and she’s depressed in a way she can’t articulate by his plan to persuade an elderly neighbor to give them a bunch of Unused sandstone from your garden for your new home – an acquisition that fails to give any sense of nesting and domestic accomplishment.
Meanwhile, Stewart’s Elizabeth is teaching a class on education law and a lonely ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) arrives on a whim and falls in love with the teacher. Her presence, more moving and powerful than Stewart’s, is another asymmetric factor.
The law is a key issue. Laura’s client settled too soon and for too little. Perhaps Laura and Gina may suspect the same of themselves for various reasons. another trope is the dispersed and fractured community. gina really wants to use her neighbor’s sandstone for her house because it is a genuine indigenous material. and yet she is deeply bewildered by her inability to establish a real connection with this old man, suspecting that by not pressuring him hard enough to accept payment for the stone, she and her husband have taken advantage of his borderline status. of dementia and elizabeth has to drive four hours both ways for her teaching job, and she couldn’t cultivate a connection with her student even if she wanted to.
Certain women have an off-center, short-story aesthetic. it’s a film that refuses to trigger the traditional climactic revelation or catharsis that ties everything together, and some may find it frustrating. I found it completely absorbing. you should take some time to immerse yourself in its quiet mystery.