Criterion Review: CERTAIN WOMEN (2016)

Kelly Reichardt’s film about yearning and isolation is now on Blu-Ray.

Certain Women, last year’s quiet cinematic work from director Kelly Reichardt, is a tale told in vignettes. Each unit of storytelling holds at least a kernel of recognizable, relatable truth for women in the audience: the male client who won’t take the word of his female lawyer Laura (Laura Dern), the older man who speaks to a husband and ignores the wife Gina’s (Michelle Williams) attempts at discussion, and a solitary ranch-hand (Lily Gladstone) yearning for connection.

Reichardt’s film, based on stories by Maile Meloy, is the opposite of verbose. Day-to-day activities make up a large part of the action. A smoke break during an early morning jog, the filaments of horse hair that fly up during brushings, and the partaking of meals in food courts or diners are all given weight in Certain Women. There are thematic parallels to another recent Criterion Blu-Ray release, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman.

Subtle color tones — beige, peach and golden tones, browns and navy blues — make up the palette, through the costuming and production design. With the natural lighting and the ambient noise used, this adds to the everyday feel of the work. Reichardt is placing importance on the routine.

Themes of loneliness and isolation permeate Certain Women, most obviously in the section involving Lily Gladstone’s seasonal worker who grows an attachment to a young night school teacher from out of town (Kristen Stewart). Gladstone’s face brightens as Stewart’s character Elizabeth walks into the classroom. There’s an earnestness to her subdued pining, in allowing herself to believe in the possibility of something more.

This week’s Blu-Ray release from Criterion offers a crisp picture (it’s a digital transfer supervised by Reichardt and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt) and a few special features. There is such sharp attention to detail, whether it’s the Dooney & Burke purse Laura wears into a hostage situation, the edge of a diner napkin (still wrapping silverware) Elizabeth uses to wipe her mouth, or the more general composition and framing of Blauvelt’s shots. Certain Women says so much about the dashed hopes of its characters with limited dialogue and muted glances.

Special features in this Criterion release include:

  • Interviews with director Kelly Reichardt and executive producer Todd Haynes
  • an interview with author Maile Meloy
  • the trailer
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