A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)

Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone in Certain Women
Laura: Laura Dern
Gina: Michelle Williams
The Rancher: Lily Gladstone
Elizabeth Travis: Kristen Stewart
Ryan: James Le Gros
Fuller: Jared Harris
Sheriff Rowles: John Getz
Guthrie: Sara Rodier
Albert: Rene Auberjonois

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay: Kelly Reichardt
Adapted from stories by Maile Meloy
Cinematography: Christopher Blauvelt
Production design: Anthony Gasparro
Film editing: Kelly Reichardt
Music: Jeff Grace

I haven't seen any other films by Kelly Reichardt and I haven't read the stories by Maile Meloy on which Reichardt based her film Certain Women, but it's clear to me that Reichardt has a sure hand with the essence of the contemporary short story: the pregnant slice of life that comes to no definitive conclusion within its confines, but reverberates long after you've read it. One touch struck me almost immediately: When we first meet Laura, the central character in the first third of the film, she is getting out of bed after a mid-day liaison with a man. We don't see him again until the second third of the film, when he turns up again as the husband of another woman, Gina. But Reichardt leaves this fact undeveloped: It's there as something to be contemplated as we watch the sections of the film that deal respectively with Laura and Gina. The two women never meet in the film, and if Ryan's infidelity has any effect on his marriage, it's only as backstory to the tensions that surface between Ryan and Gina when we see them together. This is a film in which nothing is ever really resolved: Laura's client, Fuller, goes a little mad and she has to talk him out of a hostage-taking situation, so he goes to jail and at the end of the film she brings him a vanilla milkshake and listens as he tells how his wife left him. Gina and Ryan are building a house and their sullen teenage daughter sulks in the car as Gina bargains with an old man for some sandstone blocks in his yard. The old man's mind wanders while she talks, and he seems to address all of his remarks to Ryan, when Gina usually handles business matters. Later, when they're loading the sandstone onto a truck, Gina waves to the old man as he stands in his window, but he doesn't respond. And in the most poignant section of the film, a young woman who tends to the horses on a ranch wanders into a night class taught by Elizabeth, a stressed-out young lawyer, and develops a crush on her. She returns to the class and takes Elizabeth to a diner several times until the night when a new instructor appears and tells them that the long drive Elizabeth has been making to teach the class has gotten too much for her. The young woman then takes the four-hour drive to the town where Elizabeth (as well as Laura and Gina) lives, seeks her out, and bids an awkward goodbye. Then she gets into her truck and drives back, falling asleep at the wheel but fortunately only running off the road into a field. The sequences meld into one another without breaks, and the whole thing is permeated by a sense of place: the beauty, loneliness, and subtle menace of the Montana landscape.

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