"Reichardt humbly establishes herself as a visionary in The American Experience, whilst raising empathy in a testing social climate for women"
In Certain Women, Lily Gladstone, a Missoula resident and Montana native, plays a young ranch hand; a role that may never have come about had it not been for the film’s director Kelly Reichardt having made adjustments to the script. In Short stories from Helena, where the idea for the screenplay came from, Maile Meloy wrote Travis, B. as a male. However, in changing the sex more ambiguity arises, especially in us trying to ascertain the precise attraction she holds for Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart), a recent Law Graduate from Livingstone.
Stewart performs her scenes well, and Reichardt’s focus on someone’s absence, as opposed to their presence, is incredibly rich. Gradually, Lily Gladstone’s character continues to pine after Stewart’s, despite boundaries being laid down later on.
The characters in Certain Women are all trying to acquire something; trapped between a mythology of greatness and the personal limitations that govern their drab realities. A quiet observation of people who have reached the end of their tether. Each character attempts to make their way in a small-town Montana, yet their lives are somehow interlinked.
Paul Haggis' Crash and Amores Perros (translation: Love’s a Bitch, often dubbed the Mexican Pulp Fiction), directed by Alejandro Iñárritu are two examples of films where there’s an interlocking. Haggis mixes stories that preach his distaste of racism, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga - two of the strongest forces to emerge from Mexican cinema - centre their plot around a tragic accident, which brings three incomparable characters together, yet with each narrative thread being individually developed: the universal appeal of this film, one might say.
By Reichardt paying as much attention to atmosphere as the vein of the story, she humbly establishes herself as a visionary in The American Experience. The only trouble is audiences might not necessarily appreciate this to its full extent.
Like in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain she understands characters’ emotions, and with each frame she tells a story, with the landscape even helping to form the characters further.
Her authenticity does not serve as a burden but more a necessity, and it is evident in her characters who themselves are outsiders are determined to carry out tasks through the hardest means possible. For example, Gina (Michelle Williams) negotiates a pile of sandstone to be used for the foundations of the house she intends to build. The sandstone itself is 'native', having once belonged to the old schoolhouse: a significant detail if not to everybody. One could go so far as to link this detail to Reichardt’s career, meticulously carved out, and yet built up brick by brick.
Certain Women deals with the following: empathy and corporate greed, forbidden desire, loneliness, and one’s duties in what is otherwise a loveless marriage. Acting veteran Laura Dern plays her role as lawyer Laura Wells with an understated beauty, and the on-screen rapport between her and client Fuller (Jared Harris) runs with effortless ease.
The film could be seen as an examination of women at odds with an overarching institutional and social system of control, which raises empathy in the age of Trump, when it has never been so important.
As a playwright, Harold Pinter finds value in pauses, and so does Reichardt, which is a scarce occurrence among filmmakers. She appreciates what happens during those pauses, and where the action picks up again. It can be a way of expressing to the voyeur a character’s feelings and their emotions. After all, a good 70% of human language is communicated through their bodily gestures and in what's not said.
In Certain Women, Reichardt humbly establishes herself as a visionary in The American Experience, whilst raising empathy in a testing social climate for women.