Certain Women ★★★★

What often strikes me in Kelly Reichardt's films is a sort of narrational neutrality that highlights the inherent dualities or contradictions in characters or situations. That's not to say that Reichardt as a person or as a filmmaker is without a defined perspective, agenda, or bias, but rather that this observational relativism, filtered through a deceptively naturalistic formalism, is carefully calibrated and essential for the type of story Reichardt likes to tell. Here, the tension between hope and hopelessness, intimacy and estrangement, presentation and perception is paramount and amplified.

There's always been a lot more being said through Reichardt's framing and cutting than she is sometimes given credit for, and Certain Women, by trifurcating itself into three barely overlapping tales and thus forcing us to resolve thematic rather than narrative rhymes and resonances, accentuates how smoothly she has been using character-driven cinema as sociological or existential commentary all along.

It would seem that the second chapter, starring Michelle Williams as wife and mother attempting to purchase sandstone from a local resident for the construction of her family's second home, is almost universally regarded as the weak link; I disagree. All three chapters are about an inability to connect, often across divides of age, class, or gender, and Williams' is simply the most willful or blind example. Hers is also the most straightforward of the three stories, and I assume its relative lack of ambiguity and its lack of traditional narrative "stakes" is what people are responding to when they write it off as lesser than the chapters surrounding it.

Structurally, Reichardt's masterstroke here is in not simply presenting three discrete stories, but rather giving each its own brief epilogue, during which she allows her characters to have moments of grace, hope, clarity, and connection, however small they may be; it is in these final moments that the individual units really cross-pollinate and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

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