Certain Women ★★★★

Kelly Reichardt speaks my language. Certain Women is a marvellous pleasure to be a part of. The director of the wonderful Meek’s Cutoff, Old Joy and most recently Night Moves is one of America’s most consistently interesting filmmakers. Certain Women is made up of a trilogy of short and loosely-connected stories (based on Maile Meloy’s) that offer a hypnotic, understated and beautifully filmed (on 35mm) study of the everyday, and three independent small-town Montana women living in states of unfulfillment and navigating the hand they are dealt as best they can.

A viewer will naturally seek a link between the stories but Reichardt keeps them elusive and speculative. The first story is about a lawyer (Laura Dern) who is tasked to diffuse a hostage situation involving a disgruntled client (Jared Harris), the second features a married couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros), who encounter friction as they try to persuade an elderly man to part with his stockpile of sandstone so they can build a fence for their dream home. The third story – the strongest and the most emotionally impactful – benefits from outstanding work from Lily Gladstone, portraying a ranch hand who forms an attachment to a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart, also terrific), who has been making a four hour drive into her local town to teach a twice-weekly adult education class.

Thematically, Dern and Williams’ stories find both women in a state of anxiety as a result of the carelessness and aloofness of the men in their lives, but ultimately come to accept that they give them direction and purpose. Gladstone’s story doesn’t feature men at all, and it is a woman who provides the most stinging betrayal. Each of these stories possess an undercurrent of dramatic friction; relationships on the verge of combusting, the characters taking chances, contemplating the morality of their decisions, and having to live with guilt and regret following others.

This film’s pacing and threadbare plotting won’t be for everyone. Williams’, I expect, will be the most polarising. But, no one can deny Reichardt’s ability to wring every ounce of beauty out of the beautiful landscape, and using her pared-back, observational style to build a stirring tapestry of human experiences (not only with each other, but with the animals in their lives) that seem small, but have an enormous bearing on their lives. Like her preceding works the quiet, enthralling pace has a mesmerising effect.