Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Certain Women

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 2016
Duration: 1.47
Languages: en
Original name: Certain Women
Category: Gems of New Cinema
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    DCP viewed at the School, 14 June 2017

MSFF: "The predominant female director of the American independent filmmaking Kelly Reichardt has by chance become our festival’s darling; this year we will be screening the fifth in a row from her six feature films. And what a film! Placed in the Mid-West Montana this melancholic winter tale has the familiar minimalism, however the stories of three women are in its triptych style completely different from her previous films. If possible, Reichardt is stronger than before."

"The film is loosely based on the short stories by Maile Meloy, who was born and raised in Montana. It is such a pleasure to see in the leading roles, different aged actors at their best, the pros Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart (who is also starring in another of our festival films; Personal Shopper) and newcomer Lily Gladstone."

"In the first episode lawyer Laura (Dern) has to deal with (no doubt it is because of her gender) her challenging client’s hostage situation. In another episode Laura’s lover’s wife Gina (Williams) tries to make her housebuilding dream happen in the middle of marital problems. In the third episode a woman; Lily (Gladstone), working in a horse ranch, falls for a young law professor (Stewart) teaching at the adult education centre. The film portrays quiet everyday life with a realistic and psychologically nuanced way, in the background exquisitely captured plains and mountain ranges of the small town of Montana." (TM)

"After being a film assistant for Hal Hartley’s and Todd Haynes’ films KELLY REICHARDT attracted attention with her debut feature film River of Grass (1995); a comical road-movie that busted the genre myths. Awarded in Rotterdam, the film Old Joy (in Sodankylä 2007) is a relaxed, minimalistic elegy of the friendship of two pals. The film continued Reichardt’s original, almost avant-garde, indie-production reflecting the same way as did the on-the-road film Wendy & Lucy (in Sodankylä 2009) of the traumas of Bush’s America."

"Meek’s Cutoff (in Sodankylä 2011) was a surprising female western, which tells in a harsh way, the reality of a settler family. Political thriller Night Moves (in Sodankylä 2013) continued crossing the genre boundaries by following the effects of an eco-terrorist act.
" (MSFF)

Directed by     Kelly Reichardt
Produced by     Neil Kopp
    Vincent Savino
    Anish Savjani
Written by     Kelly Reichardt
Based on short stories by Maile Meloy in Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It (2009)
Starring     Laura Dern
    Kristen Stewart
    Michelle Williams
    James Le Gros
    Jared Harris
    Lily Gladstone
    René Auberjonois
Music by     Jeff Grace
Cinematography     Christopher Blauvelt
Edited by     Kelly Reichardt
Production companies     Film Science
    Stage 6 Films
Distributed by     IFC Films
Release date    January 24, 2016 (Sundance Film Festival)
    October 14, 2016 (United States)
    107 minutes
Country     United States
Language     English
    Laura Dern as Laura Wells
    Kristen Stewart as Beth Travis
    Michelle Williams as Gina Lewis
    Lily Gladstone as Jamie, the rancher
    James LeGros as Ryan Lewis
    Jared Harris as William Fuller
    René Auberjonois as Albert
    Sara Rodier as Guthrie Lewis


"Certain Women explores a handful of intersecting lives across Montana."

"Lawyer Laura Wells (Laura Dern) has been dealing with a disgruntled client, Fuller (Jared Harris), for eight months. Out of work after a work place injury caused a disability he has taken to visiting Laura repeatedly at her office. As he will not listen to her advice she takes him to another lawyer who, after assessing the case, tells Fuller exactly what Laura told him; that though his company was at fault for his injuries he can no longer sue them after accepting their initial nominal settlement. On the way home from visiting the second lawyer Fuller feuds with his wife and is kicked out of their car and takes a ride back with Laura. On the way home, he tells her he wants to shoot his former employers."

"That night Laura arrives at Fuller's former place of employment where he has taken hostage a security guard. After being prepped by police Laura goes and finds Fuller who has her read the case file his company has on him and the lawsuit. Laura reads the entire file which details how Fuller was cheated out of his settlement. He decides to let the guard go and then asks Laura to stall for him by going to the front and telling the police of his demands as if he has a gun pointed at her while he slips out the back. Instead Laura immediately tells the police where Fuller is and he is arrested."

"Gina and Ryan Lewis (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) are a married couple with a teenage daughter building their own home from the ground up. Gina feels that Ryan constantly undermines her with their daughter and is annoyed by his behaviour. On their way home from the campsite of their new home, they decide to stop at the home of Albert (René Auberjonois), an elderly man they know, to try to persuade him to sell them the sandstone on his property. As they talk Gina tries to persuade Albert to sell her the sandstone, but he interrupts her repeatedly and seems only interested in talking with Ryan. Eventually Albert tentatively agrees to give the sandstone to Gina and Ryan, and Gina, who has been secretly recording the conversation, signals that they should leave. In the car on their way home she finds it ridiculous how easily she was able to obtain the sandstone."

"Sometime later Gina and Ryan arrive and load up a truck full of the sandstone. She notices Albert watching from his window and waves at him but he does not wave back."

"Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is a ranch hand living in isolation during the winter, tending to horses on a farm outside Belfry. Heading into town one night, she sees cars turning into the school and follows them. She learns she has stumbled onto a class on school law taught by a young lawyer, Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart). Jamie goes out to eat with Beth after class, and Beth explains that she lives in Livingston which is a four-hour drive away, so she must make the eight-hour round trip twice a week to make it back in time for her real job."

"Despite having no interest in education law, Jamie returns to class week after week. One week she brings one of her horses to class, and she and Beth ride the horse to the diner. The following week, she is stunned when she learns Beth has quit and a new teacher is brought in as a permanent replacement. Jamie then immediately leaves the class and drives straight to Livingston. Spending the night in her car, she spends the morning driving to law offices hoping to find Beth. On the way, she has flashbacks of the previous time she drove to the city. Locating her address, Jamie sees Beth in the parking lot and told her she drove over knowing that if she didn't she would never see her again. Beth fails to respond and so Jamie leaves abruptly. On her way home, she falls asleep at the wheel and plows into an empty field."

"Laura visits Fuller in prison where he tells her his wife left him for a man in prison and implores Laura to write to him."

"At the site of their new home Gina looks at her pile of sandstone with satisfaction."

"Back at the ranch Jamie tends to the horses, still painfully alone."

"The three stories intersect in passing: Laura is having an affair with Gina's husband Ryan, and Jamie inquires at Laura's firm while searching for Beth."

AA: Shot in Montana, Kelly Reichardt's new film Certain Women tells three stories based on Maile Meloy's book Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, featuring Laura Wells, a lawyer (Laura Dern), Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) whose family is building a house, and Jamie the rancher (Lily Gladstone) who is attracted to the law teacher Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart).

The approach is based on a sense of place and a delicate observation of character, dismissing classical rules of drama and refusing to obey constraints of star images. There is a feeling of authenticity in the narration. Reichardt discovers unexpected angles in familiar actors, creating them spaces for regeneration.

I confess this is the first Kelly Reichardt film I have seen and I know I need to see all. I also confess that I lost focus on the last of the stories due to fatigue, having worked an ultra long day at the office yesterday, coming to Sodankylä at midnight, and having contributed from the early hours of today to the Finland 100 morning seminar. I need to revisit this gentle, anti-dramatic film.

The visual quality seems to be based on a digital interpretation of unreality, defamiliarizing nature, creating a psychological space, starting with the opening shots where a magnificent train (a recurrent motif in the movie) enters Montana in a classic Western landscape surrounded by mountains.

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