2016, R, 107 min. Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Starring Laura Dern, James Le Gros, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Lily Gladstone, Jared Harris, Rene Auberjonois, Sara Rodier.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 28, 2016
Piercingly lovely yet narratively impervious, Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is one of this distinctive filmmaker’s best films. It will reward the patient viewer with its keen observations of lives lived, but will feel like time elongated to those who desire a more plot-focused story. It’s almost as if Reichardt were reacting with this film to her previous movie, Night Moves, the most narratively structured film of her career.
Working by herself (instead of with her frequent screenwriting collaborator Jon Raymond), Reichardt adapted short stories by Maile Meloy into Certain Women’s narrative triptych. Three subtly related stories, all set in the environs of Livingston, Mont., provide privileged glimpses into the unspoken feelings of its discrete female characters. These lives can be as aloof and cheerless as the formidable Montana landscape. (The natural environment is always an essential factor that shapes Reichardt’s movies; Christopher Blauvelt’s 16mm cinematography adds untold depth to the unmerciful terrain and desolate vistas.) Yet our limited peeks into these lives leave a haunting sense of everything we do not know about the characters. None of them evaporates into a dim memory; they are all the more vivid for the way their presence lingers, for the way their reticence leaves us wanting more.
Working in such a bespoke manner, Reichardt is aided greatly in this film by the participation of bona fide Hollywood stars. Reichardt’s muse Michelle Williams returns for her third outing with the director; Laura Dern anchors the film’s most plot-driven segment; Kristen Stewart inhabits a conflictingly precise yet skittish object of desire in the film’s most evocative portion; and relative newcomer Lily Gladstone will practically break your heart despite scant lines of dialogue. All are actresses who are capable of conveying much with their facial expressions, who can draw us in yet leave us unrequited. To the extent that we get wrapped up in Certain Women, it is in thrall to the lure of these performers.
The subtlety and restraint in the way Reichardt links the vignettes is also commendable. It’s as if she’s reminding us that we’re all part of the grander scheme of things but at the same time disconnected from one another. Certain Women will enter your life and might take up residence in a windswept corner of your brain. Certain viewers might like the film to have more closure and containment, but others will certainly welcome the company of these characters.