Certain Women

Certain Women ★★★★½

A freight train in the distance labours beneath grey skies as it measuredly progresses towards the foreground, the sound of a cold and chilly wind seemingly passes through the theatre. We then cut to an unexceptional small town blanketed by snow as mountains lie asleep beyond. At the very beginning of the film these first two shots set the tone for the remainder of the film: sombre, downcast and a little bit sad.

We are then presented with slice-of-life observations of three women living quiet lives of desperation, loneliness and disatisfaction. Despite how serious that might all sound these portraits are drawn with a healthy dose of wry humour and genuine compassion as each woman has an encounter with another person wrought with confusion and misunderstanding. All of which serves to perfectly illustrate just how difficult it can be to manage the porous boundaries between ourselves and others.

Laura Dern and Lily Gladstone are fantastic in this film. With a single contortion of her face Dern appears to say, "Oh no! Not him again", "I can't beleive he just said/did that" and "Fuck it. I'm lonely and he needs support", as she struggles to maintain boundaries with her most challenging client.

Lily Gladstone conveys a calm innocent pleasure in the simple routines of life. Excited by a burgeoning friendship we see her blend wonder and confusion as she becomes captivated by her teacher, uncertain how the whole human-to-human thing works. Her dewy-eyed steady gaze radiates a beauty that elevates her beyond what western society would deem a plain and non-feminin appearance.

Nuanced multivalent performances are not restricted to only these two actresses. Everybody puts in an absolutely stunning turn enabling director, Kelly Reichardt, to explore an amorphous shifting moral landscape where unacceptable behaviour is tempered by circumstance and confusion. Given such a rich sense of each lonely soul's conflicting emotions and uncertainties, our judement is suspended. The quiet moments in between entreaty us to sit and reflect on the fuzzy boundaries between ourselves and the indeterminable other.

This is a beautiful film that is both compassionate and sad while at the same time being leavened with a dash of everyday levity resulting in a film that is serious but rarely dark and oppressive. It is an absolute joy to watch and I strongly recommend it to anyone who may understand the baffling puzzle of how to connect with our fellow human beings whether it be someone who thrusts themselves upon us, someone we are already supposed to know intimately or someone we desperately want to know more.

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