Film director Kelly Reichardt is moving at a slower pace. While major studio productions have crawled towards bigger, flashier, louder movies, Reichardt has cemented her place within independent cinema over the last 20 years, staying true to her style of articulating visceral stories, often with a profound quietness. Her latest feature, “Certain Women,” which debuted at Sundance in January and has its theatrical release today, is testament to her style.
Reichardt, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009, has earned the respect of her cinematic peers through her body of work. Michelle Williams is a repeat collaborator and last week at the movie’s New York Film Festival premiere, Kristen Stewart, who’s been proving herself as a “real” actress in the wake of her “Twilight” fame, expressed high admiration of the director: “I love her movies. I would’ve done anything with her.”
“Certain Women” is inspired by Maile Meloy’s collection of short stories, “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.” “I’m drawn to stories that have a lot of exteriors and where people are sort of really wrapped into their environments,” Reichardt says of her decision to adapt Meloy’s work. Although uneasy when the camera is turned on her, the petite director exudes a similar hyper-observant, inquisitive presence as her films. Her work gives weight to the mundane moments and details that are typically eclipsed in other films, and in person, Reichardt gives off the impression that she picks up on those details in others around her.
Reichardt maintains her introspective style in her new film, but the project marks a departure: she filmed in Montana, making it the first movie she’s made outside of Oregon. “I wanted a new landscape,” says Reichardt. “I spent some time in Montana, and so was like, ‘Oh yeah, this seems doable.'”
“Certain Women” is structured as a triptych; each story stands alone as separate vignettes, connected with visual threads so subtle that the cues are easy to miss; the link is felt more through style and theme. “I didn’t want to force some parallels on them,” Reichardt explains. “There are some traditional ideas of the West that I think run through it.”
A pivotal change from Meloy’s stories was to make one of the main characters, a rancher played by Native American actor Lily Gladstone, female instead of male. “It just came as part of trying to make the three stories work together,” Reichardt says of the decision. “As soon as I got into it, I realized that I could resolve issues that were in my way.”
In a movie packed with big names — Laura Dern as well as Williams and Stewart — Gladstone carries immense weight, leading the film’s final story opposite Stewart. “Lily was just a great find, and so the dynamic between the two of them kind of worked for the story,” Reichardt says of the pairing, noting that their story was the first one to be filmed. “I originally worried would Kristen be sort of too big a name for the part that she was playing, but she was really able to play small — she really just played it as Lily’s story, it was a non-issue for her.”
Reichardt notes that because she’s worked with Williams before — the actress starred in “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Wendy and Lucy” — her story ended up being the shortest to film. “We had such a language [already],” says the director. “You know, she’s always good, she always brings something to [a project] that you don’t expect. I think she gets to really be sort of funny in this role.”
But the humor, like all of Reichardt’s work, is subtle.
She shot the movie using 16mm film, which lends a grainy, almost dusty quality and soft texture to the visuals. “It just has a little bit more of a impressionistic thing to it,” she says of choosing that medium over digital. They were up against the effect of brutal Montana winter temperatures on equipment, as well as their geographic seclusion from L.A., which added time between filming and getting the raw footage (dailies) developed to look over. “I was expecting a big resistance,” she continues. “And everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we gotta shoot film.'”
With her sixth feature film officially distributed, what’s next on the horizon?
“Gosh, I haven’t really talked about it,” she says. “I’m working with the writer Patrick deWitt on a project — we’re working on that, and possibly shooting outside the U.S., which will be interesting.”
But no word on whether she’ll go East or West. “I haven’t gotten that far yet.”