Certain Women ★★★★½

Certain Women is as calm and lovely a film as I have ever seen.

In the hands of most directors, this would have been pretty boring fare, or worse, a clichéd multiple-narratives-tied-together-at-the-end tearjerker. But it is neither of those things, and that is because of writer-director-editor Kelly Reichardt, who understands that empathy, not plot, is the driving force of cinema.

Each interaction here is framed with that in mind. Take the scene where Gina Lewis, wonderfully acted by a compassionate but determined Michelle Williams, is talking to an old family friend Albert about taking some sandstone blocks he has laying in his yard. He's old, alone, and nearing the end of his life, and she insists on paying him. Or when Laura is talking to her unreasonably demanding but deeply hurt client, instead of dismissing him or abandoning him, she shows kindness.

In each of these stories, Reichardt constructs a small frame through which to view these snapshots of life, giving us a narrow window into the vast plains and mountains of Montana. Life is the subject of her film, and in no one is life and all that it means embodied more than in the goings on and encounters of these women. Take for example the story of the rancher who lives by herself (Lily Gladstone), who is never named and whose life is as mundane and devoid of human interaction as you're likely to see. One day she goes for a drive and sees people pulling into a school parking lot. Out of curiosity, she gets out and goes inside to discover a class on school law taught by a young lawyer named Beth (Kristen Stewart). She is not registered for the class, but Beth asks if she will come back and tells her that they won't check the registration. It's not that exciting of a story, but Reichardt turns it into something beautiful by removing the need for an exciting story and choosing instead to focus on the moments of grace shared between the two of them.

A pleasant aura of calm serenity rests like a blanket over this whole film. Even in moments of tension, Reichardt still manages to bring out the beauty. When I was eight or nine years old, we lived in a small house on a mountain that overlooked a valley in the Sierra Nevadas. Every morning, I'd open the front door or see someone else do it and I'd see the view. This is a film that made me remember that and smile, even though at the time it was a thing of no great significance. In this humble film lover's opinion, that signifies a special film. Slow down, take a deep breath, enjoy the view, look at the person next to you and see the beauty. Certain Women is a gem.