Certain Women ★★★★★

TIFF16 Film #21

Reason for pick – director Kelly Reichhardt

With only six feature films under her belt, Kelly Reichardt is being presented in the TIFF Masters programme, and deservedly so. While I’ve only seen two from her previously, Wendy and Lucy and Night Moves, the former convinced me that she was something special, and someone to watch. Certain Women only confirms it.

Reichardt seems to possess an almost supernatural power for understanding the emotion of a story, and presenting it to the audience so plainly, without any adornments, that it simultaneously feels like life, and affects you like family. When you look in her characters eyes, you feel what they feel.

In Certain Women, Reichardt weaves together three Maile Meloy short stories, but she cares less about the connective tissue she adds … which is brilliantly simple … than she does about finding the thematic similarities in these tales. Similar in structure to Wendy and Lucy, the stories don’t really have any beginning and end, they don’t have any real arc, they are all just moments in time captured in the life of three women. The commonality of the three is simply a moment when one character causes another to experience sadness. While, on the surface, the offence could be looked at as either miniscule or justified, but when Reichardt frames it, you can feel the depth of the pain.

In the way she interleaves the three stories, she incisively cuts one to the other at just the right moment, allowing a third act where redress, or not, can be delivered. There are no violins here, the finales are just moments. In one of the segments conclusions, the sound of the guitar is all that is needed to complete the story, and this is one of the most brilliant bridges ever built. Even the linking between the stories is graceful and elegant in it's minimalism.

While Kirsten Stewart, Michelle Williams, and Laura Dern add star power to this tiny indie, and certainly give fabulous performances, it’s newcomer Lily Gladstone that really shines with her effortless rendering of a beautifully simple farmhand. Kudos, too, to Rene Auberjonois, the scene where he simply stares out the window while MIchelle Williams smiles and waves is utterly heartbreaking, and so well played.

My sweetie just scored us a Reichardt collection of the films we have yet to see; those watches are among my most anticipated in the coming months. I was worried a bit, as Night Moves signalled that she may be moving in another direction, but those were unfounded. Certain Women is a masterpiece, and virtually tied for my top spot at TIFF this year.

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