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Posts tagged “Drama

Cheque’s In The Mail….

Released thirty years ago today, one of the all time great teen apathy movies was made, which for me is up there with Rebel Without A Cause, A Clockwork Orange, Gummo, Over The Edge, Spring Breakers and The Outsiders and as one of the all time great teen movies. Tim Hunter, who went on to direct a few episodes of Twin Peaks crops up now and again on TV projects;

Dennis Hooper, fresh off Blue Velvet paired with Crispin Glover is quite a cult movie combination. Some of the films memorable lines are still exchanged between me and my friends when the situations requires, hence the post title. Here’s a brief documentary;


Cheque’s In The Mail…

Released thirty years ago today, one of the all time great teen apathy movies was made, which for me is up there with Rebel Without A Cause, A Clockwork Orange, Gummo, Over The Edge, Spring Breakers and The Outsiders and as one of the all time great teen movies. Tim Hunter, who went on to direct a few episodes of Twin Peaks crops up now and again on TV projects;

Dennis Hooper, fresh off Blue Velvet paired with Crispin Glover is quite a cult movie combination. Some of the films memorable lines are still exchanged between me and my friends when the situations requires, hence the post title. Here’s a brief documentary;

Cheque’s In The Mail…

Released thirty years ago today, one of the all time great teen apathy movies was made, which for me is up there with Rebel Without A Cause, A Clockwork Orange, Gummo, Over The Edge, Spring Breakers and The Outsiders and as one of the all time great teen movies. Tim Hunter, who went on to direct a few episodes of Twin Peaks crops up now and again on TV projects;

Some of the films memorable lines are still exchanged between me and my friends when the situations requires, hence the post title. Here’s a brief documentary;

Moonlight (2017)

moon1Sometimes, when you think the cinema you are constantly exposed to can seem staid and similar a broadside thunders, and your expectations are beautifully shattered. The reputation of Moonlight hustled up a high bar of brilliance, coalescing since its rapturous responses throughout the festival circuit of 2016.  Initially, during the first part of my screening I was intrigued but I wasn’t necessarily immersed – an early, flashy single take that dervishly swerves around a scorching Miami neighbourhood smacked a little of indulgence, and setting yet  another film in a narcotic nested centre of the African American experience could only make me think that we’ve been here too many times already. But then one early scene pours from the screen in such indecipherable  beauty, when mid level drug baron Juan (Mahershala Ali) teaches a young boy, Chiron (Alex Hibbert) how to swim in the Miami surf, and this deeply moving film never looks back. Juan has taken this neglected and withdrawn boy under his wing after discovering him wondering through some ruined tenements in the ghetto of Liberty City, his father absent, his mother grappling with her own substance abuse demons.

moon2Barry Jenkins adaptation of screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue  charts Chiron through three formative periods of his life, as a boy, as a gangling and sullen teenager (played by Asthon Sanders) and then as a young man (a broodingly fragile Trevante Rhodes), his moniker shifting from school nickname to street name through a procession of identities. That is just one of the connective tissues  that emphasise the underlying currents of self and soul that permeate the picture, beautifully rendered in a trio of linked performances from three previously unknown actors. Although I was initially perturbed by the unfolding of yet another tale of African American experience unfolding in the ghetto, of slinging on the corners and avoiding 5-0 it soon becomes clear that this is merely the backdrop of a wider psalm on our perceptions of the self and how these can change through time and circumstance, the id in a constant state of flux and evolution. Naomi Harris (better known as Moneypenny in the latest Bond’s)  as Chiron’s mother and Ali (the fixer Remy in House Of Cards) are both fantastic support, surrounding Chiron with fully rendered adults to his wounded interior, with all their complexities and contradictions in full display.

moon3For a sophomore effort (his first film, Medicine For Melancholy is already being reassessed) this is a film which is deeply accomplished, fully deserving of the panoply of awards it has attracted and its affinity with the best work of Wong Kar Wai and Lynne Ramsay, both cited by  Jenkins as crucial influences. The palette is that of combining  intimate, handheld closeness coupled with broad widescreen environments, James Laxton’s cinematography brilliantly blazing within the alabaster Miami sun and a twilight of shimmering oranges. Through these designs the film levitates, hovering in that space between self daydream and cognitive inquiry,  where crucially Laxton lights the space, not the characters so they can work and move within the dimensions of specific scenes. Carefully orchestrated through the performances, score, masterful manipulation of exposition and colour schemata Moonlight weaves through the influential moments of this young man’s life, before alighting on a devastating emotional conclusion, without resorting to the usual closure of the screen-writing  101 playbook.

moon4A rather lazy but accurate pitchline for the film has devolved to Boyhood meets Boyz In The Hood. Rather more beautifully I’ve heard Moonlight compared to ‘Caravaggio in Florida’, and as a culturally shrewd punctuation mark on the Obama era, of racial advancement and civic progress for gay rights, whch forms a an important thread but not the entirety of Chiron’s story. What is clear is that beyond the surface sexual and racial politics is that Moonlight is a cartography of shifting identities, not just of his life and struggles but also those of his mother and other ancillary characters, divorced from the usual  social realist take on growing up poor, in troubled circumstances in modern America. Rather forlornly one hopes that it can overcome the steam train of the undeniably entertaining, skilled yet in comparison rather hollow La La Land come Sunday night, but I’m sure the Academy will favour another valentine to itself rather than this infinitely more complex meditation on masculinity. Believe the hype, this is a major film from a major new voice, aching and vibrant with bittersweet beauty;

Manchester By The Sea (2017)

m1It’s always January isn’t it? That somewhat bleak, recuperation and recovery month when the cinemas suddenly resonate with the flotsam and jetsam of the previous year, especially the award attuned ‘serious’ cinema that dominate the discourse of the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the BAFTA’s and all the others. I recall going to see Kenneth Lonergan’s previous troubled film Margaret during a chilly January release, a long gestating project that required the intervention of luminaries such as Scorsese – yes him again – just to complete the films editing and guarantee a limited domestic and international release. Five years later his follow-up Manchester By The Sea arrives on a gilded cushion of critical praise, already clutching a panoply of awards and nominations, with acting and screenplay nods seemingly guaranteed with this years Academy Awards are announced next Tuesday. When we first meet Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) we quickly parse that he’s a withdrawn and troubled soul, working as a handyman cum janitor in a quiet Massachusetts coastal town, prone to bouts of drunken violence in a local bar, while resisting the advances of men and woman into his hermetic, almost monastic world. A frosty morning phone call sets the story in motion – his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away from a long-suffering cardiac condition, summoning Lee back to the titular Manchester to conduct the various legal and bereavement arrangements, also nominating Lee as the temporary guardian of his sixteen year old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) since their alcoholic mother Elise (Gretchen Moll) fled, or was exiled from the family a few years earlier.

ms2Beware gentle reader, consider yourselves seriously warned, as this film is fucking heartbreaking. Through an expertly orchestrated lattice-work of flashbacks we incrementally learn of Lee’s tragic back-story, ignited and recalled in his imagination by the stresses and strains of the present’s new emotional responsibilities, with many of  his fellow townsfolk whispering of a dark history when his back is turned. Affleck has always struck me as a haunting presence, malevently malefic in Oscar nominated turns such as The Assassination Of Jesse James etc., adroitly amusing in the Oceans movies, genuinely certifiable in The Killer Inside Me. But beneath that sinister edge there is a vulnerability which reminds one of Montgomery Clift or early career Sean Penn, and he is perfectly cast and perfectly plays those qualities to the fore in Manchester By The Sea, wracked with guilt and withdrawn from the pains of the world, suddenly thrust into a new lexicon of blood-tied responsibilities that he struggles to surpass. Having listened to a recent WTF interview with him he knows from bitter experience the impact parental psychosis can levy on the family unit, how rage and for some substance abuse clouds deeper haunting problems of the psyche, and he seems to be drawing from that personal reservoir for this shattering performance. He’s a different man, happier, genial and invigorated by life in flashback, a severe counterpoint to the muted husk we follow in the present day, he’s bulls-eyed a nomination and potential Oscar win and this controlled and internalised turn would be my front runner for February.

m8This is very much a winter film, shot with a shivering authenticity in the small coastal town of Manchester which squats an hours drive from Boston, perfectly melding the seasonal torpor with the Chandler family tragedies. It’s a generationally blue collar community where the denizens love their hockey and basketball, they enjoy fishing with their buddies so they can enjoy a beer or seven, the blood ties that bind forming the spine of the community. Lonergan is too much a respectful chronicler of the human condition, of our frustrations and foibles to offer any pandering solutions to torment, he doesn’t posit such platitudes that  obliterating events may ever heal or regenerate. Still, beneath that bitter observation there is  a quiet tender core to the film as fragments of joy and relief still remain, and the continued affection between Lee and his nephew –  an amusing Lothario in training – has also earned Lucas Hedges a deserved Oscar nomination.

ms3While there is a drizzle of observational humour to alleviate the oppression Lonergan is also an expert  in the minutia   of day to day life, the small quiet moments signalled by the slight curves of a smile or a painful sideways glance, those miniscule moments of unconscious communication which can transmit more than a thousand word soliloquy. It’s also a treatise not only on the repercussions of tragedy and bereavement but on the administration of death, the protocols of passing. Who makes the phone calls to impart the terrible news? How do you arrange the details with the undertakers, and whom arranges storage of the cadaver when the ground is to cold to commit to a service? Anyone who is suffering some density of family strife and struggle – in other words 99.9% of the human race – will find the film brimming with empathy while perhaps an exhausting experience, expertly modulated and paced with key information being revealed in key emotional flashbacks, which as narrative devices are revealed with maximum effect. Sometimes the unvarnished truth of our lives and their unresolved and  messy strands need to be reflected on screen, to remind us that we’re not alone, and not everyone can easily shoulder the burdens of their lives, the destructive decisions and drives, as traditional resolutions would have us believe. It’s very early I know, we’re barely a month into the year, but this deeply moving and tragic film is a certain contender for one of the years best;

Paterson (2016)

patterson1Time for one more, just one more story, before the snows settle in, and a rogue, death-star sized behemoth seizes multiplexes for the remainder of this frosty year. Now I like Jim Jarmusch, he’s one of those genuine talents whom started in his own idiosyncratic way in the American Indie scene of the 1980’s, whom has resolutely followed his own path rather than court the favor of the big studio’s or gone chasing more populist, mainstream fare. Sometimes that can work either way, I’d state his output since the millennium although regular has been a little repetitive, lightly treading circles in the water in terms of themes or style compared with the philosophical triumphs of Dead Man or Ghost Dog back in the 1990’s. However 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive seeded a return to form, his louche take on the screen vampire mythos given an effortlessly cool inscrutability, and teaming him with two of contemporary cinemas most respected performers – Tilda and Tom. His follow up, Paterson, also sees Jarmusch utilizing the skills of another so called ‘hot’ property, the intense Adam Driver who now adds another J.J. to his litany of directorial collaborations, alongside such measly metteur en scène  as the Coens, Noah Baumbach, Jeff Nichols and some fellas called Scorsese and Spielberg. I was intrigued to see that this was showing at my local Cineworld which can occasionally branch out from the blockbuster fare and serve an alternative audience, and Paterson’s regular appearance on many of the sprouting ‘best of the years’ list also piqued my interest, along the fact that a) I haven’t been to the cinema for a couple of weeks and b) disgracefully I’ve never fully covered a Jarmusch film here, meant that a weeknight jaunt  to West India Quay was written in the stars.

patterson2I first stumbled across Jarmusch through the legendary Moviedrome season and a late night screening of Down By Law, which in turn introduced me to the particular grizzled charms of Tom Waits and John Lurie, author of one of the most gently bizarre cult curios I have recently stumbled across. Unlike some of his contemporaries such as Alison Anders and Hal Hartley Jarmusch seems to have endured, building a quiet but devoted fanbase who enjoy his Lower West Side cultural appropriations and the minimalist, social realist bend to his movies.  His path is to take stoic yet creative, withdrawn yet robust characters through a short phase of their life, armed with a gentle sprinkling of movie, music, or literature references, finalised  with a subtle narrative punch, to provide some dramatic charge and sense of purpose. Location is important, gracing his seemingly aimless narratives with  an extra intangible character, utilizing such evocative and pungent locales as Memphis,  New Orleans, Tangiers and Detroit.  His latest focuses on working class suburbia, as the location and the main character share the same New Jersey destination – Paterson. He’s a young veteran who now makes his modest means driving a bus around the borough, played with a seemingly lethargic Adam Driver. Every day cycles through the same pattern – Paterson wakes up and snuggles with his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani)before grabbing a spot of breakfast. He interacts with is beleaguered supervisor before taking the bus around the city, while gently eavesdropped on his passengers for inspiration. At lunch  he crafts poetry which he captures in ancient pen and paper analogue style, while eating his pre-packed snack at a local park. Returning home he adjusts the rickety mailbox, before dinner and a walk of the dog, an errand which serves as an excuse for a couple of beers at his local watering hole where he is friendly with the wise barkeep Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley). Rinse, recycle & repeat seven times, for the films one week insight into Paterson’s quiet life meanders through these peaks and troughs, mediated via Jarmusch’s unhurried, deadpan humored ideology.

patterson3Alongside Broken Flowers this might be Jarmusch’s most gentle and quietly affecting film, the rhythms and repetition of modern life forming the narrative spine, with just a faint hint of manufactured affectation (what was with all the twins eh?) to keep the piece firmly locked into his own, particularly precocious movie universe that stretches from Down By Law through to The Limits Of Control. There are faint whiffs of hipster posturing which is no new allegation against J.J., a fetishisation for authentic artifacts such as the folk music guitar that Laura covets, or the range of left-field musicians that festoon Paterson’s local bar patron hall of fame,  the closest echo must be the immortal vampires spirited deference to vinyl over digital in Only Lovers Left Alive.  If you can stomach such light posturing and the references to poets such as William Carlos Williams (whose epic magnum opus serves as another layer of inspiration for the film) or Ezra Pound then there is much to enjoy here, in all its homely and familiar, slice-of-life infrastructure. Both Laura and Paterson are not quite realistic, not the grounded vérité characterizations that you’d expect in, say, a Ken Loach picture, but there genuine affection and patience of each others idiosyncrasies, from his lack of ambition to take his work to a wider audience, to his quiet patience with her various financial schemes and flighty hobbies.

patterson4Jarmusch’s perceived failure to engage with the reality of these locations and characters has confounded some observers – why make Paterson a veteran and then not explore any potential damaged psychosis? Even in cosmopolitan, suburban New York a mixed race relationship wouldn’t be exposed to some social public disruption or prejudice? I think such concerns are missing the woods for the trees, these simply aren’t the concerns of the filmmaker who isn’t attempting to make some social realist statement, his emphasis is on an entirely different intellectual plane, and its not dissimilar to complaining that a Michael Bay picture violates the laws of physics, logical cohesion or indeed shared system of simple human decency. Jarmusch is interested in the quiet magic, the reflections among peoples lives and our interactions within those frameworks,  mannered yes but no less affecting slice-of-life vignettes which we can all relate to on some, intrinsic level. I caught a sense of the Bukowski in the blue-collar repetition, thankfully minus the anarchy of substance abuse, yet with a fine eye of the poetry in the minutiae, which may yield more poignant shared truths than any high intellectual , elite university educated  wordsmith. Like it’s 2016 stalemate Certain Women this is not a film which is going to change the world, but for the two hours it spirits you into someone else’s tender-hearted life, a welcome respite to the gloomy news cycle which as Rian Johnson recently tweeted ‘I could have spent another twenty hours in that world’;

Silence (2017) Trailer

As we stumble toward the end of the year the studios always start to unveil the previews of their big guns for the period ahead, and we’ve waiting a while for this one;

Marty’s been anxious to make this for twenty or so years, I can’t say the subject matter particularly inspires me, but that’s quite a cast, it’s Marty, and that is quite a trailer. First essential viewing of 2017, and a perfect context setting multiplex release for the BFI season. Excellent.

Moonlight (2017) Trailer

There has been an increasing aptitude of buzz for Moonlight growing over the past few months, another Sundance flavoured hit which seems poised to break through from the independent world into a modest, but successful multiplex bow. That could be no mean feat for a film about a young black gay dude who is suffering ritual abuse, in todays world that wouldn’t immediately strike me as a box office blast;

I’ll probably try and give it a chance relying on the strength of the reviews, some have cited the giddy heights of Wong Kar-Wai at his best, although having seen the rather dull and pedestrian The Grandmaster last week that’s not exactly propelling my excitement….

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

blake1 I wasn’t planning on going to see I, Daniel Blake in fact I’m still not entirely sure why I did. Sure, it surprisingly took home this years glittering Palme d’Or, a perfect summation of anti-establishment firebrand Ken Loach’s lengthy career, but I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for a lengthy diatribe against some of the deep-rooted social failures of the modern world. You only have to look at the front page of your particular news periodical of choice to be stricken with a deep and unyielding existential dread, a frantic howl at the way our country and the wider world seems to be lurching further and further into suicidal insanity, regardless of your position on the political spectrum and whether you read The Guardian or The Times, The Express or The Morning Star. Arrayed against the fragile prayers for a stable future there’s a new, more erratic Cold War, the slowly congealing Brexit economic holocaust, a pan Atlantic insane demagogue within grasp of the launch codes of a behemoth superpower, or just the overarching Sword of Damocles known as accelerating and inevitable climate catastrophe to reckon with. Have I cheered you up yet? No, well in a week the clocks back and it will be dark and cold when you get up in the morning and miserable and exhausting by the time you get home, and don’t for one second think that you can find any solace in the cinema, judging by this weeks oppressive entry.

blake2To quickly summarize this is Ken Loach’s final acerbic assault on the neo-liberal agenda, an investigation of two characters caught on the serrated point of the politics of austerity, and a final eulogy on Thatcher’s mantra that ‘there is no such thing as society’ and we are all our own selfish, self-perpetuating drones. We first meet Daniel (stand-up comedian Daniel Johns), a bereaved geordie joiner whilst he is undergoing an absurd DwP assessment interview. He has recently suffered a heart attack, and has been strictly instructed by his doctors to on no account stress himself or engage in any strenuous activity, given his serious medical condition. Through a tangled web of bureaucracy a picture of a system that is intentionally designed to oppress and punish its citizens emerges. Through a genuine misunderstanding Daniel is caught in a twilight zone where he is supposedly not entitled to a social care system he has spent his entire adult life supporting, due to the new private sector outsourced rules and regulations which crush any challenge or sense of human decency. An altercation at the Job Centre between the frayed Katie (Hayley Squires – just brilliant), her two children and an officious DwP official brings her family into compassionate contact with Daniel – she has been decanted from London to Newcastle by the authorities due to the social housing crisis, and now has to raise, clothe and feed her family without the support structure of her wider family and friends, in an unfamiliar city while struggling to navigate the byzantine and cash-starved  ‘support’ system. Slightly lonely, Daniel supports the struggling trio by fixing the utilities in her decrepit new home, doing some odd jobs, and offering some childcare support while Katie anxiously seeks a modicum of low-skilled employment, not realizing that his own financial position is becoming even more precarious despite his redoubled efforts to claim the assistance that as a 40 year rate paying citizen is legally and morally his.

blake3Make no mistake, if you have anything of a molecule of compassion, or sense of equality and social equilibrium then this film will deeply upset you, it left me literally shaking in incandescent rage, all the more galling from learning that Loach actually toned the film down from some of the feedback he and his team have yielded from Department of Work & Pensions whistle-blowers. In terms of bleakness be warned, I Daniel Blake is like some anti-matter conflagration of a depressed Shane Meadows and Threads tearing a rift into a parallel dimension of desolation along the space-time continuum, it is relentless in its submerged fury, only occasionally leaved with a particularly British brand of observational humor. Loach is careful to show that the people caught in these situations are not the snarling working class skivers that the Daily Heil would have you believe, they are genuine people with pride and mouths to feed, struggling in a system which reduces them to numbers on a spreadsheet or cogs in a wheel, while the officials bark their robotic mantra of starvation sanctions for the mildest and mistaken infraction of the indecipherable rules. Mandy is shown anxiously pushing cards through peoples letterboxes and in newsagent’s windows in order to get any cleaning work, while Daniel yomps around Newcastle’s industrial estate to get any manual work which he can’t even accept, trapped in the unbelievable position of having to seek work he can’t take for medical reasons, wasting his, the States and the potential employers time in a grimly absurd limbo. Some of the plot turns seem a little contrived and fail to map to the overall agenda but these are small mis-steps when considered against the larger portrait of 2016 Britain – I’m still not sure why we dovetailed down Daniel’s neighbors and their entrepreneurial mission of importing trainers from China, other than a general point of how even young, energetic and ambitious members of the workforce are being forced into illegal areas by the prevalence of zero hour contracts and slave-wage commerce.

blake4It is, however, also a film which excels in the smaller, more gentle details. The smallest acts of generosity or selflessness become incrementally intensified to the point of, showing a collective strength in a common humanity, with . Some supporters have suggested that the film should be projected on a loop against the side of the DwP’s Whitehall HQ, given its savage revelations. Me, I’d go one further. I’d suggest taking every single politician, every civil servant, and more importantly every outsourced, profit led contractor involved in the implementation of these policies and strap them down, Ludvico style, and play them a loop of the film to their excruciatingly prised open irises for about as long as it takes for a starving person trapped in the system to actually get a decision notice or an appeal to their sanction heard by an independent tribunal – so something akin to six to nine months. On the more technical front the output is vertite framed as you’d expect from Loach, a non-obtrusive camera which records the action at a respectful distance, utterly absent of any intrusive score and a indistinguishable blend of professional actors and actual people who operate in this roles, all igniting the work with a sense of furious authenticity. Unfortunately I have to urge you to avoid reviews and see this cold, as many critics seem to be gleefully and spoilerifically discussing one of the films most powerful scenes, debating whether or not it is fact one of the most powerful scenes of all genre or country produced in the past decade. That’s not hyperbole, the immediately notorious ‘food-bank’ sequence is just……it’s obliterating, it’s devastating, with more power and punch than the combined CGI production roster of Warner Brothers and Disney combined. In this perfectly observed and tempered moment and it’s aftermath Loach revitalizes the power of cinema to put you in the lives of other people, with an umbilical empathy to their plight, when I saw it there was a ripple of audible gasps from the audience which I’m told is replicated across numerous screening experiences all over the country. The ultimate accolade is this – I’ve written this review in a furious burst over maybe an hour to ninety minutes, which I hope proves how I, Daniel Blake gets deeply under the skin, in one of the most essential and electrifying films of the year;

BFI London Film Festival 2016 – Certain Women (2016)

women1There are a few filmmakers whose work I will go and see when I excitedly hear of a new project, regardless of trailer quality, plot synopsis or cast manifest. Naturally anyone who has been following this quiet corner of the internet won’t be surprised to hear that the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese, Fincher and Nolan, Malick and Mann fall into this exalted category (among others), but away from those imposing high-profile figures there are also the other, smaller scale filmmakers whom have quietly earned the Menageries continued support. If I throw some names like Sean Durkin, Sofia Coppola, Peter Strickland, Jeff Nichols or Sion Sono out there you should get the drift, although I’m sure there are a dozen or more others whose names escapes me now*. What can I say, there’s just something about the demeanor and approach of these creatives to the art form that gels with my sensibilities, I can’t really articulate this other than some sort of affinity in terms of the ‘feel’ or the ‘aura’ of their films, as opposed to any specific themes or concerns which are threaded through their work. One of the more recent elevations to the pantheon is Kelly Reichardt, an undisputed master of the ‘slow burn’ form of cinema, with her penchant for long takes, minimal dialogue, functional camera placement and empathy for realistically troubled, blue-collar characters. Her admiration seems to have steadily grown over the past decade or so, my initial exposure was forged during an unexpected viewing of Wendy & Lucy, where I was literally  and figuratively blown away with a simple tale of a young hitchhiker and her dog, wandering to a heartbreaking conclusion through the economic aftermath of the global depression. Since then her stock has been raised through the well-distributed Meek’s Cutoff and to a smaller extent 2013’s Night Moves, one of my favorite films of that years Toronto Festival where I saw it in a packed house of North American devotees. Now she’s back with another acclaimed drama with a slightly ambitious twist, intertwining the lives of four women in small town Montana, in another brilliant and keenly observed drama.

women2The initial instinct is to frame this as a portmanteau film, a series of story strands through which the lives of four resourceful women intersect and are coolly and charitably examined. In the opening sequence small town lawyer Laura Wells (the criminally underrated Laura Dern) wallows in a slightly melancholic post-coital bliss, following a mid-day adulterous encounter with her illicit lover Ryan Lewis (James LeGros), in an opening sequence which feels like an unconscious nod to the opening of Psycho. Returning to work she patiently manages the expectations of her frustrated client (Jared Harris) whom is suing his ex-employer for a negligent termination claim. Next, and in the films weakest section Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) visits a dementia dwindled relative with her husband Ryan (the already seen LeGros), she is in the midst of building a new home for her young family and senses an opportunity in reliving her uncle of some valuable raw materials he has lying dormant on his rural estate. Finally, in a quietly heartbreaking movement newly graduated lawyer Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart) is teaching an evening legal course to newly inducted state school educational staff, suffering a punishing, weekly, four-hour commute routine from her local up-state practice. Almost imperceptibly an affectionate relationship begins with one of her accidental students Jamie (a breakthrough performance from new-comer Lily Gladstone), a young woman of native ancestry who manages a remote farm and is evidently seeking some solace from a void of human interaction. Through slight, barely perceptible encounters and coincidences the lives of the four women cross and weave, in this muted yet affectionate celebration of small town lives and modest dreams.

women3Now, first things first – if you’re one for dramatic revelations and conclusions, for clear transformative three-act character arcs and resolutions then be warned – this is simply not the film for you. It’s the kind of story which is akin to curling up on a fire-warmed winter afternoon with a heavy-weave blanket, nursing a mug of steaming cocoa with a well-thumbed novel by Steinbeck or Cormac McCarthy to hand, minus the latter’s prevalence of ruthless violence. Like McCarthy it is ruthlessly confident in its pacing and structure, it certainly has a well-defined and curated overarching vision, championing a fidelity to the genuine dramatic lives of its participants, with all the quiet incidents and frustrations intact. Like all of Recihardt’s former work there is also an austere rejection of the standard dramatic model of engineered confrontation or resolution, including a resistance to any common weapons in the filmmakers arsenal, including a rejection of any hand-holding non-diagetic music until one final movement toward the end. So it’s the American equivalent of the Dardennes, of Ken Loach thankfully minus the political hectoring, all sprouting historically from the well-spring of Italian Neo-Realism, a holistic collection of the minor struggles and triumphs of live across these quietly captivating characters,  or as one fellow movie-goer muttered to his partner as the credits rolled ‘life goes on, I guess’. I can’t in all honestly claim that all the threads are as gratifyingly stirring as the others, for me the highlight was clearly the Kirsten Stewart storyline while the weakest was the Michelle Williams interaction, her character and tale strangely amorphous and immaterial compared to what Laura Dern conveys with a lightly mannered sigh or Lily Gladstone signals with a darting glance of her mournful eyes.

women4I don’t know who sanctioned that hideous movie poster seen above, but I guess they have to push the established cast in a vain attempt to stir the docile masses out of their reality TV induced stupor eh? This year’s other quiet critical depth charge Hell Or High Water had its own specific beating undercurrent of economic malaise and frustration powering the story engine, empowering the protagonists to violate the law in that cathartic viewing way. Although you could consider them as companion pieces as Certain Women treads the same iconography of the forgotten by-ways and highways of small town America the energy arises from the internalized instincts of the characters, a reassuring shared glimpse into the lives of others, through which we can see some mirrored fragments of our trials and tribulations. I just love the sheer chutzpah of the film-making, in its own submerged, peculiar and idiosyncratic way. In the most moving section of the film Lily goes through the rituals of her day to day existence, conducting animal husbandry, estate management and domestic duties on her ranch, before seeing her new acquaintance Beth back at the evening class which is clearly at this point is the highlight of her life. Reichardt adamantly refuses to take shortcuts, ensuring that every liaison between the two is punctuated with the a montage of these daily rituals, and it is through this patience and fidelity to the real metronome of all our lives that a magical sense of connection emerges. Any other film, particularly those with any mandated Studio Executive interference would have those longueurs eliminated immediately, when in fact they are almost the entire point of the picture, building the rhythm of day-to-day routine which are elegically charged with unforeseen and unexpected interventions – a potential new partner, a financial success, a bereavement, a birth. I can’t really speak from any authority as I quite literally only saw a handful of films at this years festival out of the 250+ projects in the programme, but I am happy to see this wonderful film awarded some kudos from the festival panel, a well deserved plaudit and another step forward toward a quiet masterpiece that I’m sure Reichardt can deliver in the years to come;

* OK,you want a list? Then let’s do a list. How about we include Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Del Toro despite his recent disappointments, Lynne Ramsey, Noe and Refn of course, Haneke, Trapero, Shane Carruth, P.T. Anderson (despite the disappointment of the last mis-fire), Mungiu, Bigelow, the Coens, Lanthimos, McQueen, Alex Garland, Cuaron, the big screen MIA Soderbergh and on and on and on before we get into animation, current TV or documentary which aren’t exactly my forte….