Alex Heeney talks to writer-director Kelly Reichardt about Certain Women and analyses how Reichardt uses framing and sound to tell a story of breaching personal boundaries through breaking cinematic ones.
Not much happens on the surface in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, but these small stories have big emotions and ideas. A lawyer (Laura Dern) having an illicit affair is pestered by her dogged former client. An entrepreneur (Michelle Williams) seeks to buy rocks from a local friend to use in the house her husband is building for her. And a ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) becomes enamored with a young lawyer from the city (Kristen Stewart) who teaches a night class in town.
All of the interactions in the film find people talking to each other without quite listening to or hearing one another, with women’s voices most often falling on deaf ears. But the film is as much about the ways in which our personal space is invaded, the way we invade others’ spaces — sometimes, just by insisting on being heard — and how we create our own prisons, even as we seek to liberate ourselves.
Certain Women is both a series of character studies, and a look at the Montana landscape and the characters’ relationship to it. Based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s collections Half In Love and Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, the film’s three vignettes are each, first and foremost, a character study of a woman with a purpose, who knows what she wants, or thinks she does. Short as they are, each vignette fleshes out the people in these women’s lives who define them, constrain them, and challenge them. The film starts with the oldest and most settled character, and with each story, finds a younger, less settled protagonist: it’s almost like looking backward in time, from a settled Westerner to those still young enough to be finding their land and their place in the world.Reichardt finds meaning in the ways the characters relate to each other and their spaces, physically.Click To Tweet
Reichardt finds meaning in the ways the characters relate to each other and their spaces, physically. Each frame’s composition reveals so much emotional content. Reichardt’s exquisite framing is particularly impressive given that her process is to let the actors do their thing, follow them around for coverage, and then cut the performances together. “You’re kind of setting everyone into their space,” Reichardt elaborated, “and trying to shoot them in a way where you pick up how everyone is responding to each other and then how they are in the world, the greater space.”