Certain Women

 

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Three not entirely unrelated stories in a single setting.

    Certain Women

Kristen Stewart

 

Although a number of present-day filmmakers have embraced a minimalist style, the American Kelly Reichardt besides being one of the best known of them has also become one of the most individual. Her films which she usually writes, directs and edits not only eschew the big storytelling moments of fiction but present us with characters who seem absolutely real. However, in contrast to many of the films that were part of the Italian Neo-realist movement in the 1940s and 50s, she turns not to non-professional players but to established actors who are willing to play in the mode that her films require.

 

Certain Women, set in Montana, illustrates this perfectly. For her screenplay Reichardt has here drawn on three short stories by Maile Meloy. With all three taking place in the same state, it is natural enough that there should be occasional connections but essentially Certain Women presents itself as a portmanteau piece telling each story in turn (it comes as something of a surprise when the first two tales receive a coda at the film's close).

 

Despite there being three narratives, the women of the title are, in effect, four in number. First, we have Laura (Laura Dern), a lawyer with an agonised client (Jared Harris) whose acceptance of a compensation payment following an accident on a construction site prevents him from having the legal right to sue his negligent employers. Second, Gina (Michelle Williams), the only married woman of the four, is uneasy both over the business of obtaining material for a building project and over the relationship that she has with her errant husband (James Le Gros) and her difficult daughter (Sara Rodier). The longest most engrossing narrative is the last concerning a young female rancher (Lily Gladstone) and the rapport she feels for a lecturer on school law (Kristen Stewart).

 

Many short stories lack clear narrative closure in total rejection of the style for which W. Somerset Maugham was renowned. That creates some problems here as the viewer is left to decide when one tale has yielded to the next. Furthermore, this combination of tales invites speculation as to what other than the setting links them. It's true that as the title suggests the female characters are the most central, and in a general way all three tales deal with the human need for close attachment to another person. Nevertheless, one still feels that there should be a stronger sense of these stories truly belonging together.

 

However, the third tale is compelling in its own right and the acting in all three is exactly what is required. Michelle Williams may not have the strongest role but, as we know from the marvellous Wendy and Lucy (2008), she perfectly understands what Reinhardt is seeking from her players. Even so, while also admiring the other members of the cast, I must pick out the relative newcomer Lily Gladstone and assert that she proves that her awareness of what is needed matches that of Williams. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, James LeGros, Jared Harris, John Getz, Sara Rodier, René Auberjonois, Guy Boyd, Joshua T. Fonokalafi.

Dir Kelly Reichardt, Pro Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani, Screenplay Kelly Reichardt, based on stories by Maile Meloy, Ph Christopher Blauvelt, Pro Des Anthony Gasparro, Ed Kelly Reichardt, Music Jeff Grace, Costumes April Napier.

 

Filmscience/Cinereach-Park Circus.
107 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 3 March 2017. Cert. 12A.