Certain Women
dir-scr Kelly Reichardt
prd Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani
with Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, Jared Harris, James Le Gros, Sara Rodier, Rene Auberjonois, John Getz, Joshua T Fonokalafi, Matt McTighe, Guy Boyd
release US 14.Oct.16, UK 3.Mar.17
16/US 1h47
Certain Women
Alone with her thoughts: Gladstone

stewart dern willliams
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Certain Women Based on short stories by Maile Meloy, the three narratives in this film only barely touch each other. Each strand takes a distinctly female perspective as it explores similar themes relating to unresolved relationships, and filmmaker Kelly Reichardt lets them unfold with a quiet authenticity. But the pacing is so slow, and the emotions so elusive, that it's not easy to engage with.

In rural Montana, lawyer Laura (Dern) is representing a hopeless case: an injured worker (Harris) who accepted a small pay-out before realising he'd never properly recover. Gina (Williams) is building a home on an idyllic bend in the river with her husband Ryan (Le Gros) and their surly teen daughter (Rodier), and they need old sandstone a man (Aberjonois) has stored up for half a century. And a young rancher (Gladstone) develops a crush on Beth (Stewart), a lawyer who drives four hours twice a week to teach a night class at the local school.

Christopher Blauvelt's striking cinematography is as important here as the cast and script, capturing the epic landscapes as well as a mix of light and shadow on each character's face. The film's production design is austere but detailed, conveying the wintry weather and the subtleties of interaction in a way that's eerily timeless. For long stretches of time, the movie is completely silent, letting these women ponder the realities of their lives as they drive, walk, corral horses or eat a meal.

Each actress brings the full force of life to her role, providing back-story without a word. The standout is Gladstone, whose daily routine hides a secret she simply can't say out loud. With almost no expression on her face, she offers an emotional story arc that the other characters don't really get. Dern's Laura has a more plot-based narrative, as she gets involved in a low-key hostage situation with a Samoan security guard (Fonokalafi). Williams has the least defined plotline, a meandering slice of life that hints at deeper themes but leaves them to the audience to find.

Reichardt certainly doesn't give much away here, and the sometimes achingly slow pace leaves large stretches feeling rather pointless. So while there are intriguing things going on beneath the dull surfaces, it's the kind of film that will test the patience of mainstream moviegoers. Those willing to travel at a very gentle rhythm and dig into the scenes themselves will find some surprising resonance. But you must be willing to work.

cert 12 themes, language 30.Nov.16

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