Taking the concept of “low-key” to new heights, Kelly Reichardt’s new film is not for my student who commented, after watching Jason Reitman’s Young Adult (which I consider rapidly paced), “It’s like the stuff they cut out of normal films”. Slow to the point of being provocative (“Can you take it? Can you sit still?”) Certain Women manages to be engrossing almost entirely due to milieu.
That milieu is Montana, a part of the world that has been alluded to or portrayed in gun-totin’ westerns but rarely as a minor hotbed of extra-marital affairs, lesbian crushes and personal injury lawsuits. That makes the film sound exciting, which it is not. Certain Women is determinedly “slice-of-life”; the acting is straight modern realism, the stories all entirely possible in the real world (they’re adapted from three short stories by Maile Meloy), and the shooting and editing style slow. Like, really slow. At one point there is a shot of a horse barn (is that what they call a house for horses?) that goes on, with minimal human interaction, for about nine hours. I jest, of course, but seriously, did the editor leave the room?
It’s all highly intentional, of course, and thank goodness. Reichardt is no slouch and she has a strong, personal voice. The film has an internal belief system, a structure that you’re either gonna get on board with or not. I did. But be warned. It’s a very, very quiet, deliberate and precious piece of cinema. It’s entertaining in the barest sense of the word, but it is thought-provoking, eye-opening and intriguing in the quietest. Why in the world it is in contention for the Sydney Film Festival’s Prize – which awards “the most courageous, audacious and cutting-edge new cinematic creations” – is beyond me. It is none of the above.