Kelley Reichardt has established herself as America’s foremost female auteur. I loved her films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy but have struggled to admire her brand of slow cinema since Meek’s Cutoff put me to back sleep one early Venice festival morning many years ago.
Certain Women won her the Best Film at the London Film Festival last year and I can see why championing her work – and that of a female director – makes consistent sense under Clare Stewart’s eye-catching curatorship of the LFF.
However, I can’t really believe it beat Moonlight to the award. London would have been the first to award Moonlight anything if it had the courage to do so. Especially as, for me, Certain Women falls a little short in terms of emotional impact.
It’s three separate stories of women on the verge, set in the tough yet beautiful landscape of Montana. Laura Dern is a lawyer whose male client (played by Jared Harris) won’t listen to her yet has fallen obsessively for her.
In another tale, only obliquely connected to the first, Reichardt regular Michelle Williams is at her most inscrutable as a woman trying to build a summer house using traditional sandstone.
The third strand has the excellent Kristen Stewart playing a lawyer giving a night class to teachers which is, almost by mistake, attended by a local cowgirl (Lily Gladstone – one of the year’s great faces) who becomes smitten.
All the while the vast, tough exteriors are contrasted with the equally majestic interior lives of these characters in Reichardt’s measured, unhurried observational style of realism.
However, there is a scene in which one character falls asleep at the wheel, the length and tedium of the journey finally overcoming her. Which did make me wonder: if her own characters can’t stay awake for the whole movie, what chance have I got?