Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Certain Women

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Reviews - Certain Women

Certain Women

Reviewed By Pam Newns

Certain Women
Certain Women
The third film in Keswick Film Society's autumn season, Certain Women, completely divided audience opinion; it is the type of film you either love or hate. Directed by Kelly Reichardt, and based on three short stories by American writer, Maile Meloy, it is a slow moving, visually stunning film which details the lives of four women united by a sense of isolation and powerlessness in their situations. Their stories unfold against the backdrop of Montana, where the snow-capped mountains and empty wide open plains dotted with occasional small communities, with their boxy buildings and diners, serve to heighten their loneliness.

The first tale concerns Laura, a lawyer (played by Laura Dern), who is having an affair in her lunch breaks; at work she is having problems with a troublesome client who cannot accept that, by accepting a small sum on paper, he has signed away his claim to a substantial settlement from his negligent employer. It is only when a male lawyer re-iterates what she has said that he believes it. When her client turns violent, Laura is caught up in a hostage situation where she is sent in to talk him down, only for him to eventually end up in prison where she still visits him.

The second story is that of Gina, a dissatisfied high achieving wife and mother (Michelle Williams, memorable for her recent performance in Manchester by the Sea), who is trying to build a weekend home; she feels excluded from the intimacy enjoyed by her husband and teenage daughter. Her husband is the married man with whom Laura, the small town lawyer in the first tale, is having an affair. The couple go to buy some sandstone blocks for her building project from an elderly neighbour who has some form of dementia and will not accept payment; this makes her suspect she has taken advantage of him. The tale finishes with her gazing at the stones, contemplating building the house.

In the third and most moving tale a lonely young Native American woman (played by Lily Gladstone) is working temporarily as a rancher - her only companions on the farm are the horses and a small energetic dog. She follows some local teachers into an evening class on education law which is led by Beth, a young law graduate (Kristen Stewart), who is worn down and struggling to make ends meet - she had not realised the class involved a four hour journey each way. They start going to a local diner after class, where Beth eats and chats whilst her companion watches attentively. The third time they meet she brings one of her horses to offer a ride to Beth and they enjoy a fleeting intimacy whilst riding to her car. After hearing that Beth will no longer be teaching the class, she drives over and seeks her out in her workplace, only to realise that Beth does not feel for her the way she does. The tentative friendship which might have blossomed into love is over. On the way back she is so tired she drives off the road. The final shot of the film shows her back on the ranch, forking hay, undefeated by her misery and carrying on with her life.

The film is wonderfully shot, with muted interiors, and an almost golden light filtering through some of the outdoor scenes. In themselves, the stories are fairly insignificant, giving glimpses into the lives of some conflicted but stoical Montana women. All three tales are very quietly told, with lingering camerawork and many silences, apparently the norm for Kelly Reichardt's films. It takes a while to adjust to the slow pace and it is only gradually that you get drawn in to the minutiae of the women's lives and experience the tensions running beneath the surface. The acting is excellent throughout, including that of the largest male part, Laura's alternately needy and violent client (Jared Harris). But it is the women who are the focus and whose lives we are left pondering upon long after this intimate and absorbing film has ended.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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