As a rule I don’t tend to post film reviews on here – ones dedicated to a single film, at least. I tend more towards the sort of short reviews you see in my film reccomendation posts (subtle plug: you can read them all under the Film List category), then I spill my disorganised single-film review thoughts elsewhere. However, this was just too much for Facebook. I’ve just got home a few minutes ago from seeing Certain Women (2017), written, directed and edited by Kelly Reichardt. If you’re familiar with my blog or Twitter you’ll be well aware that Reichardt is one of my favourite directors (top three, probably!) so it comes as no surprise that I’ve been following this film for a while and hunted down the only place showing it nearby. So now, I just really need to talk about it.
I will start by saying that it’s quite possible I clouded my own judgement, as I’ve been looking forward to this film for months and read quite a lot (okay, a very lot) of reviews. Overall however, I think Certain Women was slightly, just the most tiny miniscular bit, underwhelming. Just a bit! Hear me out: I personally find Reichardt’s films to be a cut above most other indie films, they’re truly more of an experience (clichéd as that sounds) than just a film. They truly are art in my eyes. Thus, I’m sure I hold them to a higher standard than other films. Don’t get me wrong, Certain Women was undoubtedly better than many, many films, but for me it isn’t my favourite of Reichardt’s films; Wendy & Lucy (2009) remains at the top.
That being said, Certain Women was inarguably stunning. It was shot on 16mm and while I would have loved to see the Montana landscapes in detailed digital (as I visited in 2014), the grain added a remarkable quality to the film which somehow added both a timelessness and a sense of nostalgia. The cinematography, by Christopher Blauvelt, was beautifully understated with lots of tight close-ups juxtaposed with wide open spaces and empty space in the frame – something I personally love.
The use of three different narratives and three different women was both effective and slightly unsatisfying for me. The characters’ lives don’t exactly intersect, but they slightly overlap.I won’t give specific examples for fear of spoilers, but there’s a sort of imbalance in their narratives which allows the characters to brush against each other yet never fully link together. The structure in many ways reflects a more dreamlike version of our own lives, and the obliviousness with which we move through life and other people’s.
The acting and writing was impeccable. Somehow, despite the fact you only spent a third of the film’s running time with each character, the script managed to invisibly make you feel immediately invested in them. Throughout the film and ever since the credits rolled I’ve been analysing the writing and trying to work out just what it was that produced that effect – something many writers struggle to do with the most obvious of relatable and likable characters – but I still can’t figure it out. It was truly that seamless. Each of the characters’ endings were beautifully simple and ordinary, something I’ve come to expect and admire from Reichardt. Each ending left you with a clear sense of progression and growth for the character, but wasn’t a dramatic conclusion that the characters will still dwell on years later, which is exactly what characterises Reichardt’s films: just “glimpses of people passing through.” (Reichardt)
As usual for Reichardt the film’s sound was outstanding and really added layer upon layer of immersion. It was coupled with a simple score that I only recall hearing in two scenes, but the fact music wasn’t overused to drench you in emotional cues really added more of a subtle backdrop for the poignent moments, allowing you to fully experience the realism of the characters’ experiences.
I feel as though this film will benefit from a second viewing, and I’m already itching to do so, but until then I am thoroughly grateful to have been able to have seen Certain Women.