An exploration of narrative, space, and gender roles in Certain Women

In what I envisaged to be an in-depth look into the tales of four women in the Midwest, I was as wrong as I was right about Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women. Adapted from Maile Molloy’s collection of stories, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It and Half In Love, Reichardt graciously presents three stories of four women quietly surviving in Montana.

In what could have equally been well executed as three short films, Reichardt subtly develops a narrative in triptych form which doesn’t so much intertwine the stories rather more depicts how these women co-exist along side each other. While observing the women’s stories Reichardt has also maintained a distinct cinematic style and combines this aspect with significant attention towards Montana’s landscape.

Overlooking the narrative(s) and women is the ever-present setting of Montana’s mountains – inhabiting the beautiful but derelict location – whereby Reichardt strategically repositions our perception of space to focus on the relationships of the story’s four women.

Throughout this three part structure, there is a consistent disconnect between men and women and their inability to communicate and form stable relationships. The latter is first established through Laura (Laura Dern): a lawyer currently involved in an affair with Ryan (James Le Gros) meanwhile also drearily trying to shake her tenacious client Fuller (Jared Harris). Both men are aggravatingly needy which in turn creates a subtly hilarity in juxtaposition with Laura’s casual demure, which is amplified further during Fuller’s attempt at a hostage situation and her casual realness.

[Credit: IMDB]

Throughout Reichardt’s work she successfully creates a gracious charm towards simplicity, while also establishing a grainy realistic approach to convey one’s hardship. Gina (Michelle Williams) reinforces the film’s theme of connection, or lack there of, as she balances her dwindling marriage to the unfaithful Ryan and a misplaced relationship with her daughter, all the while still attempting to nest by building a holiday home in Montana’s wilderness.

While trying to proposition their neighbour, Albert, into taking a collapsed school house’s remaining sandstone to create their holiday retreat, Gina’s dialogue is somewhat bypassed by him and redirected towards a predominantly passive Ryan. Both comic and obnoxious in his manner towards Gina, Albert shadows the significance of time and space in relation to gender roles as he represents an older generation, demonstrated by his assumption that Gina works for Ryan who coyly corrects him.

[Credit: IMDB]

Reichardt continues to explore gender roles in the final and bitter-sweet chapter through a nameless rancher’s (Lily Gladstone) relationship with a young and rundown night school teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart). Working in a predominantly male profession and quite masculine in her attire, Gladstone exerts simplistic yet impactful physical gestures that connote an endearing lust towards Beth which drives this section of the narrative.

The four women challenge female stereotypes and Reichardt speculates this predominantly through the rancher – originally a male character in Molloy’s story – by her placement in a conventionally male-orientated environment and the way in which she exhibits the evolving aspects of gender roles and contemporary relationships. Unfortunately in this instance a relationship between the rancher and Beth is unable to form due to the harsh geographical distance that Beth must travel.

[Credit: filmski-koticek]

Distance in all three stories takes a prime role, whether like the latter it’s practical distance, or physical distance in Laura’s case as despite the intimate nature of her and Ryan’s relationship there is still an obvious disconnect. Interestingly more so, this is further examined by Laura’s relationship with Fuller in his attempts to come closer to her by trying to enter her physical space, yet he still remains emotionally far away.

This theme then transcends into Gina’s narrative with her martial status to Ryan which in turn reveals that even with their legal commitment to each other, there is still a fundamental bond missing. Indicated by Ryan’s affair with Laura, and Gina’s preference to be alone as she takes herself away into an empty space to smoke, suggestively an allegorical addiction that fills this void, it becomes more apparent that even with fully formed relationships, distance still divides the women’s ability to find a connection.

[Credit: IMDB]

Amidst the women’s internal conflicts lays the greater space depicted through the landscape. Although evolution is represented by independent and progressive female leads, attention to tradition is ingrained in the slow mid-western setting connoted by echoes of Native American history still remarkably imbedded in this labouring environment.

A tranquil yet overbearing emptiness is established by the grainy palette aesthetic from the 16mm that fluently runs through each narrative, which arguably is the fundamental connection between these stories. Neither outspoken nor suited in body cons and equipped with superpowers, the four women challenge conventional female roles as they proceed to work and build in and around an environment most commonly associated with men. Certain Women will not be suited for every spectator, however as a result Reichardt intricately explores the female perspective while not adhering to the traditional melodrama genre.

The Hype of Hygge

Since visiting Copenhagen last July, I have found myself completely captivated by the Danes’ lust for chic design, cool composure and aspiration to live well.

Sent with love and well wishes, Meik Wiking graced Britain last year with the release of his best seller The Little Book of Hygge. The Little Book of ha-wha, you ask? The Little Book of “hue-gah”: The Danish Way To Live Well.

Hygge is a Norwegian turned Danish term used to describe and encourage “a feeling of home” and creation of “atmosphere and experience” in our everyday lives. Essentially, we should take more time to appreciate and indulge in the comfort of the simple things life has to offer, as opposed to limiting our enjoyment of pleasurable activities.

But why care what the Danes do? Well, the Danes’ reputation for happiness has become an established identity within itself as they are rated as the happiest country in the world. The Danes also boast a very high quality of life that is not just fixated on income or another fad diet, and this has lead many Britain’s to now jump on the train, destination: happy.

So, how does one hygge? Well, now the smug owner of Wiking’s well-being guide myself, I’ll share with you some of the simple secrets:

No matter what the occasion, have candles everywhere: Candles are the first lesson in hygge, so it’s important to note that “Scented candles are considered artificial, and Danes prefer natural and organic products”, and to put it bluntly “no candles, no hygge”. Furthermore dim lighting is key, and the Danes equally love their lamps.

Make quality time for loved ones: To know if you’ve got relationship status hygge, time spent with loved ones should feel “like a good hug – but without the physical contact”. Wiking’s research into happiness has concluded that “The more satisfied people are with their social relationships, the happier they are in general”. Moreover, at the centre of a Danish home you’re highly likely to find a dining table, designed to accommodate family and friends for frequent social meals.

Home is the “hygge headquarters”: The Danish are known for their design (oh that enviable Scandic-chic) and “tend to put a lot of effort and money into making their homes hyggelige” (aka homey and intimate). Danes therefore create a cosy yet fresh living environment, because “Home is central to social life in Denmark”. Unlike us Brits who love to go out, the Danes make their homes the place to be.

Less is more: Minimalism is also key, which you can instantly recognise from Danes’ wardrobe attire and everyday appearance, to their interior design. To get the hygge look pull your focus towards scarfs, layers, casual hair, and most importantly black, so “aim for a look that would be fitting for Karl Lagerfeld’s funeral: stylish but monochrome”.

Eat well to live well: The Danes are treat eaters and don’t fret about indulging (they’re crazy for cake) because “hygge is about being kind to yourself – and giving yourself, and each other, a break from the demands of healthy living”, while still remaining balanced. As opposed to Maccy Ds and KFCs Danes prefer to indulge in more homely comfort foods – they love their meat and potatoes, pastries, and crafted open sandwiches.

Get on your bike: It’s a very easy argument to suggest that Denmark was built for bikes, given what seems to be an on-going flat landscaped county. When visiting Copenhagen cycling was a huge highlight for me, and it’s not hard to understand why it’s so popular – it’s “an easy way to weave a bit of exercise into our daily routine and is environmentally (and wallet-) friendly”.

All sound quite straightforward? That’s because hygge really is. It’s an underestimated concept, the idea of being happy, and for me the Danes have nailed it by extracting their primary happiness from life’s simple occurrences that can be incorporated into everyday life – it is that easy.

Over the last few months we Brits have predominately been occupied with a Brexit backlash and NHS crisis, so frankly I think we could all benefit from a bit of positive well-being. Anyone curious about hygge, why not test the waters with a few home essentials: a hyggekrog (nook), a fireplace, candles (this cannot be stressed enough), wooden furniture, books (no, not kindles), ceramics, shop vintage, and fill your home with cushions and blankets.

If you’re still not sold on hygge, my only next logical step is to implore you to visit Denmark and see for yourself. Check out some of my top recommendations for Copenhagen HERE. It really is a beautiful and vibrant city that I cannot wait to visit again.

My 2017 Reading List

I was very humble with my Christmas list last year, the contents of which revolved around practical items such as socks, make-up remover, and of course books! In tune with my new practical outlook it seemed fitting that my new year’s resolution followed suit: READ MORE!

As an aspiring blogger in pursuit of a job in content writing I wanted to introduce some variety into my material for 2017. My top author’s thus far are Patti Smith, Miranda July, and Raymond Carver (I’m a big fan of short stories), and I am keen to expand and broaden my horizons.

1. A bit of lifestyle:  The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

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I was told about this little gem by a friend, and then having seen The Times rave about it the curiosity killed me. I’d visited Copenhagen last July and fell in love with the Danish culture, food, style, and what I have now learned to be known as “hygge” aka: enjoying the simple things (in a nutshell).

Wiking explores the way in which one can encompass hygge into everyday life and the results are both therapeutic and positive – everything me and my well being need for 2017 – from cooking and clothing, to the outdoors and happiness

2. A bit of philosophy: Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche

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I was first introduced to Nietzsche while studying Film at university and was very much captivated by his theories on “Will to power” and “Superman”. When applying his “Will to power” theory in film I loved analysing the concept of humans as desiring machines which then spiralled into a discourse about “becoming”.

I selected Nietzsche’s most known work Thus Spoke Zarathustra for his nihilistic and atheist approach towards humanity, which incorporates one of my favourite ideas about the “superman”, or as my lecturer labelled, the “superhuman”.

3. A bit of humour and guidance: Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham

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    “I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle” – relatable, well said Lena.

    I am a huge fan of of the TV show Girls and cannot wait for the last season. I love what Dunham has created with the script by depicting the honest, hilarious and brutal troubles of what life is like in your 20s (especially when you don’t have it all figured out). With the latter in mind, as you can imagine, I have been wanting to get my hands on her book for awhile.

    4. A bit of Art & Film: Incomplete Control by Sarah Keller

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    “Avant-Garde” was one of my favourite modules at university, for which Maya Deren became a key figure in my essays and education. Known best for Meshes of the Afternoon, Deren is one of the most influential American avant-garde filmmakers who introduced me to new ways in which one can express and convey ideas through film.

    In Incomplete Control, Sarah Keller discusses and explores Deren’s successful career as a female experimental filmmaker/artist, but also examines her unfinished works as well. Although I may no longer be at university, I’m definitely still a loyal disciple of film studies.

    5. A bit of fiction: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

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    Having expressed my interest in short stories and fast fiction, I was given this book to borrow by a friend. The title rings familiar, but to be honest I don’t know too much about the book itself or McInerney. Before committing to the idea of another book, my friend and I had a little bed time read – I was astonished and completely sold when realising Bright Lights, Big City is written in the second person! How intriguing!

    A few pages in and McInerney proves witty, thought-provoking, and brilliant, so it’s of no surprise at all that it had to be added to my list.

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    Given my inability to speed read, I am sure that my 5 top picks will keep me occupied for the majority of 2017. If anyone has a read of them, or has any other recommendations, then please do share!

    // Happy New Year //

Pineapple Carving

So apparently this year people have turned from the traditional and gone for the more exotic this halloween and I couldn’t resist giving it a go myself.

A new hipster craze? Daring to be different? New and exciting? Whatever way you may look at it, I’m all for it. I’m really not a festive person – I’m a fully fledged grinch at 24 – so  personally I’m embracing the new trend. For you traditionalists, look at it as a pumpkin in fancy dress.

What really convinced me that this was the way to go this year is when I saw all the pictures of people pumpkin picking – a truly lovely sight and wonderful family day out for sure – and then I realised most of the pumpkins’ “insides” will be binned. Don’t get me wrong, I know many people that produce delicious autumnal soups and salads with the leftover pumpkin, but I also know way more people that chuck it in the waste. What did you do with your pumpkin?

I know it’s not traditional, and it most likely won’t catch on but I insist you try it out! Hell, because it’s not traditional, it doesn’t even have to be done at Halloween – this guy would be a great addition to most parties.

Pros for the pineapple:

  • eat while you carve
  • it’s sticky but unlike the pumpkin I’m alright licking it off my fingers
  • not as messy as the pumpkin – it’s really easy and quick to carve
  • it’s great if you’re like me and prefer to keep the fear factor down to a minimum
  • it’s livened up my Monday with a pineapple project
  • kind of looks like a Mexican wrestler
  • more people eat pineapple than they do pumpkins
  • …and lets not forget the obvious: FRESH PINEAPPLE JUICE!

If that hasn’t convinced you, it’s also great… if you like Piña Coladas.
For this all you need is:

  • the leftover pineapple
  • white rum
  • sugar (hardly any)
  • coconut milk/cream
  • a blender
  • ice
  • strainer (optional)

Measurements are varied, but essentially all you do is blend, shake, and pour. It’s all very simple and (trusting your mixology skills) delicious! Granted, having been a bartender I had the upper hand and was quite pleased with mine. Furthermore this can also be made virgin style – everybody benefits from this trending kind of carving!

// ¿dónde está mi calabaza? //

 

Ron Arad’s Curtain Call

// When: 6 – 29 August //
// Where: Roundhouse, London //

I recently visited London, and what I miss most about living there is my gallery days. The city always has something going on and at the Roundhouse Ron Arad presents a mesmerising 360˚installation which projects a variety of artistic works.

Since writing my Avant-Garde thesis in university on space and institution, I have always been intrigued by the way in which one can view and experience art. Arad uses silicon rods to display these immersive pieces which also invites the spectator to physically walk in and amongst the works.

I begin by circling the outer area, looking for my in, but also because I am immediately struck by this incredible lighted structure. I then make my way to the curtain and walk through – the spectators are scattered, sitting and standing. I find my spot on the floor and instantly I am invested.

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Each work is thought-out and compliments the space to full effect as the projections move around you and shape each spectator’s perception of the works from their own physical position. I am encouraged to look around and move – the spectator gets out of this what they take, and I believe this can be shaped by how and why an individual views art in the first place.

With regards to the later, from the beginning Arad reminds me of Line Describing a Cone by Anthony McCall. Recent modernist approaches to art explore the way in which the convention of viewing can be challenged by encouraging spectator participation. I relate here to how McCall and Arad challenge this passive approach to viewing art and film which  changes the relationship that the spectator has with the material itself.

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Visually and physically, each artist works in the same format which works within the cylinder, but each individual piece is the artist’s own. Some you laugh at, gasp at, become hypnotised by, and even just appreciate the magnificence of the scale.

Furthermore, the variation in content really demonstrates how one artist can look at a space, engage with an idea, and then creatively transform it into their own vision.

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Going to see Curtain Calls was, for me, the perfect thing to do of an afternoon. As tickets are only available through August it’s really worth going to see.

Ron Arad offers the spectator a bridge between painting and sculpture with visually stunning work that is both intellectual and conceptual.

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Sigur Rós at Bristol Harbourside

// Bristol Summer Series //

Until Thursday I had not yet been to a gig at Bristol Harbourside, but it seemed rather fitting that Sigur Rós would be my reason to go. They’d always been on my to-do list, so to speak, so the moment I came across the tickets for sale I grabbed two.

In true British fashion the weather was ironically a hot topic on my mind – I had been greatly anticipating this event, so was pleasantly surprised to be escorted into the arena by a cool breeze down to the water. It was perfect. I was ready.

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Unannounced and huddled at the back of the stage, a sublime and pure vibration coursed through the open-air venue, and there they were. For a moment, there was a shared silence of anticipation as to their fixed position, but this swiftly passed after their modest intro when the trio separated and advanced forward to the front of the stage. They were accompanied by an explosion of light which was beautifully exhibited on rectangular frames.

 

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The array of lights and background installations did not reach full throttle until later in the evening – for this, I sincerely apologise to these Icelandic visionaries as this was some what distorted by our stubborn sunlight. Regardless, this did not effect the crowd’s overwhelming appreciation for something so magically executed.

The energy is transcending as they project a serene but intense atmosphere. The presence they hold is also wonderfully embodied by their unique and spellbinding sound – it is simply incredible to bare witness to something so raw and talented.

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With one graceful bow, the light display shut down and it was over.

Sigur Rós leaves you with a kind of freak out of body experience. We made our way out of the arena amidst a wave of calmness and understated satisfaction. Greeted by sirens and yawning clubs getting ready for the evening, I’d almost forgotten we weren’t set against the backdrop of green fields and wide open space.

// An unforgettable and must-see act //

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