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.


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


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


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


    “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


    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.


    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 //

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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Humanist Films

From the Great Depression to another Marvel blip, film still stands as a source of escapism. I accept this to an extent. But I believe that even more so today we need not to escape, but to see, witness and celebrate who we are as humans. Titles related to my discourse are that of France Ha (Noah Baumbach), Somewhere (Sofia Coppola), A Summer’s Tale (Eric Rohmer), Submarine (Richard Ayoade) and Whiplash (Damien Chazelle). What these titles have in common with the two films I wish to discuss is that they explore human relationships, emotions and, quite simply, life.

I’m going to begin with Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 Week End – arguably Godard’s pivotal turning point into his more radical film making – and Damián Szifrón’s 2014 Wild Tales.

My fundamental intrigue into Week End is looking at the structure of Godard’s narrative, or lack-there-of. Week End is not an easy watch as to some it arguably lacks sense because the audience are not guided through the unravelling chaos. But alternatively it represents life accurately with regards to being a fictional film. The camera follows the unfolding and random events. Characters, by conventional standards, that should be more prominent in the narrative enter a scene as quickly as they leave and do not reappear. Then again, could one not argue that this chance meeting is their purpose, demonstrating the limitless and random encounters of everyday life? Is this not what is happening all through the narrative?

With regards to the latter, all of Week End’s seeming intransitivity, I would argue, Godard appears to be strategically putting into play. For instance shots such as the pan past the car wreckages amongst the traffic jam and the close-up of a dead driver present the audience with enigmas – the how and why, and the resolution to follow. I would suggest this demonstrates Godard’s portrayal of the bourgeois; their selfishness to only address the needs of themselves with no regards to the situation of others. This is further amplified by the way in which Corinne and Roland ignore the struggles of a woman from their own class.

Moreover, one could suggest that the framing of shots further encapsulates characteristics of the bourgeois as Godard abruptly cuts away from the ‘main action’ and ceases to readdress it. This camera movement reflects some of the characters own dismissal towards enigmatic events.

From inaction to action, I would deem Wild Tales to be a intensely ‘human’ film. With it’s basic human instincts and urges, Szifrón shows the spectator what, I would argue, they really want to see. I argue this because of the honesty demonstrated by each character, but this honesty goes hand in hand with an unhinged capacity to completely lose control.

I feel Szifrón explores the pivotal line between rationality and irrationality, but presents the spectator with the conclusion to ‘what if?’. Honest, yet poetic, Wild Tales centres on a subjective truth that makes the characters very human. For instance, each character represents an exercise to which the spectator can identify with – taking matters into one’s own hands; to react completely on primal instinct; to go with your gut inclination and instant desire. Why not?

Class, social norms and politics are all cast aside from the identity of each character as they all become at one with their own thought process. For myself, this connotes a common identity not only amongst the characters, but the spectator. This is why I argue that Wild Tales is a very honest and very human film. It does not present the audience with a fantasy but a choice – something everyone has.

Each character embodies a found freedom away from convention and social norms which allow them to act out their initial desires. Morally right? Perhaps not. However, Szifrón demonstrates, what I would argue are, realistic outcomes of a society confined to social constraints of judgement, or a governing body. For instance, there is a motif that constantly displays injustice or a form of abuse that encapsulates each character, which drives them to the inevitable end of their moral reasoning.

With regards to both Wild Tales and Week End, the two films examine the consequences of a distressed society. Szifrón would appear to be centring more on the issues of the individual, but I feel as though this stands for an allegorical portrayal for society as a whole. In turn, the fixation upon select characters enables Wild Tales to directly address the spectator in order to engage with the isolation within a society that feels unjust and corrupt. Additionally, Week End gazes at the unravelling of the bourgeois which have been so encapsulated amidst a society destroyed by its own materialistic consumerism. Ideal for Godard? I would say so.

These two films detail the dissection of human nature – our needs and desires, along with our anxieties and choices. Simultaneously a message is derived from each director, displaying realities that are present today. For me Szifrón offers an escape and a sense of liberation. The continuity of sadistic humour enables a sweet justice for each character, which in a way offers a realist outcome for an outrageous turn of events. On the other hand, as opposed to the individual, Godard outlines his perspective with regards to French society in the 1960s revolving around French consumerism. Ultimately the greed and selfishness of the higher class will drive themselves, as well as society, into complete annihilation. Much like Szifrón, the beginning of the story starts with ‘life as we know it’, but Week End, in particular, reveals the fate of humanity into outright barbarism.

Powerful? Yes. The two films are insightful and delve into the chaos that is society, consequently revealing outcomes to our actions caused by being placed in a cage put there by a governing body.

Effective? The films both look at a perceived reality, Godard, albeit as more dystopian. But Godard accentuates a need for change, as does Szifrón by means of cause and imminent reaction. The films are a brutal mirror, granted from different times, but with Godard here as my beginning and Szifrón as a comfort that expresses the need and demand for more films about humans to act as an advocate for change, as well as hope.

We are not all Made in Chelsea.