Certain Women

Certain Women ★★★★★

Or Learning from Livingston.

I think Certain Women represents the aesthetic high-water mark of the 10 films I saw at this year's Mill Valley Film Festival.

The themes explored are: the lives of women of career age, their longing for self fulfillment, and more generally the fine line that we all draw every day between compassion and self interest. All of the stories bring up a line where one character could give more of herself (for better or for worse in the exchange), but then halts, pulls back, and of course bears some remorse in the aftermath.

I want to congratulate Reichardt in deciding to go to the short-story form for inspiration. I keep feeling that most movies, even the ambitiously conceived Aquarius and Things to Come, also at this festival, run on too long and try to cover too many bases. So it would be interesting to watch this film in three segments at three different times: the three stories, and then the three codas as the fourth film. Reichardt instead gives us small moments, where the enjoyment is in the subtle tendrils extended or withheld between people. And then these people's drama is put in context, under the larger forces of the snow and mountains and the distance of Montana.

The photography, editing and minimal ambient soundscape (there is only one scene I remember in the film where the heartstrings are plucked with addition of swelling chords; a choice I think is well made in the overall structure of the film) are simply stunning. And of course because it's a Reichardt film, you don't even have to mention that the casting and acting are tone-perfect.

I guess I can now go and read the New York Times' summary of Reichardt's Westerns, or better still, find a meter or so of Stegner, Carver, Proulx and Meloy at my local bookstore and bathe in it for a few months, now that the rainy season has settled in here in Northern California.

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