Certain Women ★★★★★

Kelly Reichardt has now secured herself a spot on my list of best living filmmakers. I would not be saying this if I had only seen Meek’s Cutoff and nothing else, but I loved Night Moves and found the trailer for Certain Women to be exactly the kind of cinema I treasure. Now maybe I need to revisit Meek’s Cutoff after seeing Certain Women. My goodness, what an achievement this is. An understated, sublime, cathartic blessing that reveals more truths about rural America, its values and its serenity than possibly any other film I’ve seen of its kind. And it’s anchored by an exquisite cast of women in roles that are neither flashy nor exaggerated. They are instead quiet, lived-in, delicate; they showcase a spectrum of emotions and personalities without bombast or excess so that you are gripped by their honesty and intelligence.

The film is a triptych (much like another excellent film from this year, Moonlight) that weaves three seemingly disparate tales of women living out their careers in Montana: one is a lawyer; another is a mother with a dream of building a sandstone house; and the last is a rancher at a stable farm. Each meets a person who alters their state of existence in some way, and Reichardt explores how these women change and grow from these encounters (or not). What are their dreams? Ambitions? Destinies? What autonomy do they possess, and what happens when it’s compromised? All of this is accomplished with the tranquility of a tone poem, edited with Reichardt’s usual exacting hand and shot in grainy 16mm to give it a rustic, melancholy air.

All three stories are excellent, but the third one is the one that knocked me out. Yes, it’s the one with Kristen Stewart, but even though the poster makes it seem otherwise, it’s actually not her story. Rather, it’s Lily Gladstone’s, and it should be her breakout role as far as I’m concerned. Though she doesn’t speak much, she anchors her segment just by taking a drive to town or doing the daily rounds at the farm. When she does what she sets out to do, when she fails to obtain the result she desires, her eyes tell the whole story, and that’s more than enough. They toss your heart over like the strongest gale.

I don’t know how many people will end up seeing this, and for those that do, I don’t know how many more will “get” it. Reichardt is only a jewel for those who understand what she trying to achieve; for the rest, this will probably be an uneventful slog. If you’re one of those people, well, there’s nothing I can do. I, on the other hand, came out of this film feeling like I’d been fed the most delicious, hearty bowl of comfort food. It nourished me right to my soul, and had Reichardt been there at the screening, I would have shaken her hand right away and thanked her for making films like this. Films that I can easily give a 5-star rating to without hesitation, for they are the complete package.

The next film she brings to TIFF will be the very first ticket I select. It’s that simple.