Tom Crowley finds three to be a crowd Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, which played as part of the opening weekend of the Cork Film Festival in the Everyman Palace Theatre.
With her new film Kelly Reichardt returns to her feminist oeuvre after a brief foray in filmic activism with the eco-thriller Night Moves (2013). Shot on film, Certain Women has a certain raw quality, a look that is reminiscent of Chantel Akerman’s feminist masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). However, Certain Women is no such masterpiece. Her best film still remains Wendy and Lucy (2008).
Certain Women does in fact share a lot of the same thematic qualities as Wendy and Lucy, especially in the crippling loneliness and stoicism embodied by Lily Gladstone’s character, a ranch hand in search for a meaningful relationship. The film is a triptych. We begin with the story of Laura (Dern), a lawyer who feels unvalued in her field because of her gender. She acts as a surrogate other-half, sister and mother to a disgruntled client Fuller (LaGros) whose marriage is falling apart.
Our second protagonist Gina (Williams) is also underappreciated. She is taken for granted within her family unit consisting of her pushover husband Ryan (LaGros) and bratty teenage daughter Guthrie (Rodier). The problem with the film as a whole is that the first two stories are significantly over-shadowed by the third.
Although feminist in context, it deals with the more universal theme of loneliness as Jamie (Lily Gladstone in a magnificent performance) goes in search of a meaningful relationship. In an attempt to connect with the world she goes to a night class she isn’t even signed up for. There she meets her teacher Beth (Stewart). Beth is a blindly ambitious and self-involved aspiring lawyer who makes a four hour trip twice a week to teach a class about ‘School Law’, a subject she knows nothing about just to please her bosses. Jamie sees a comparable loneliness in Beth and falls into silent infatuation. The ending to this particular panel is devastating.
The three narratives are loosely linked together by geography and ignoble relationships. The fact that the film is split into three stories helps ease Reichardt’s notoriously slow pacing. She is a director that really wants her audience to feel time. She is a committed realist. However, with Certain Women one could argue that Reichardt doesn’t get the dramatic balance right – although this opinion could be purely gender related. It is interesting that the connection that this reviewer felt most deeply with was Jamie. In the original short stories by Maile Melroy from which Reichardt adapted this film, the character of Jamie was a man. Reichardt changed the characters gender to appropriate her feminist agenda.
Certain Women premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. in January 2106. It screened as part of 61st Cork Film Festival opening weekend in The Everyman Palace theatre Saturday 12th November and will get a limited release in Ireland on the 3rd March 2017.
The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November