Before leaving Park City and the new acquaintances I met, the films I loved, and the experiences that will slowly fade in my memory, I attended Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women (10/10). Like my other hands-down-favorite at Sundance, Manchester By The Sea, Certain Women has a profound love for everything and everyone within the frame: sympathy for people, regardless of their role in a plot, adoration for a place, regardless of its presumed importance, and empathy for those on the fringes, regardless of their idiosyncrasies.
The tactility of the images are sublime, the sense that if you touched the screen you could feel the fabric of a bra, the softness of a horse’s hair, or the asphalt on the road. Reichardt’s film lingers and simmers; it allows the people, spaces and atmosphere of an insignificant American town room to breathe and contemplate. The lighting of a cigarette, a man’s diversion from talking to a woman about business, and the way someone puts their clothes back on after having an affair, screams volumes in a film so quiet, serene, and glacial you could easily miss its beauty, artistry and poignancy. A woman sitting a row in front of me, over the course of the entire film, played on her cell phone, oblivious to those around her. She should have paid attention, maybe learned something too.
Tracing three stories that have very simple plots – a female lawyer (Laura Dern) tries to separate herself from a pesky male client, a couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) attempt to convince an old man to give them a pile of rocks in order to build their home, and the final story is a subversion of the former two, where the protagonist is the outsider secluded on a lonely farm, trying to connect with an adult education teacher (Kristen Stewart). The film manages to be both rigorous and poetic, following a tight ABC-ABC structure, rather than intercutting between all of the stories at once. The characters are intentionally disconnected, but beats from each story rely on the emotional revelations in the ones prior. I’ve never seen a film quite like it.
Certain Women works along the lines of Yasujiro Ozu’s films. If the intangible feelings, rhythms, and pace of could be crudely decoded, demystifying the power of the film’s enigmatic images, ignoring the element of the film that moves us without being able to pinpoint exactly why, I could say the film is about realizing the existence of the world around us, realizing that there are other people with unique histories, backgrounds, and cultures, realizing that just because you are not enjoying a film doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for everyone else. No one is a supporting character, not those who have only one speaking line, not those that are only in a few scenes. No one is an extra, not even the people who go about their daily lives behind the main cast. Certain Women is the rare film where every detail is alive: the town breathes through a glacial pace, the characters are nourished or starved by their interactions, the love shelters and warms everyone by way of Reichardt’s humanistic vision.
At any point in Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers (2/10), I would have loved for anyone to get up, wave their hands around like a lunatic, speak in tongues or do just about anything to distract me from what was happening on screen. Not a single moment works. No joke lands.
After Tusk, which I enjoyed a fair amount, Smith has made a kind of spin-off where the two girls from the convenience store, both named Colleen (played by Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily Rose Melody Depp, and Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith), use their yoga skills to fight off an evil force lurking under the Canadian snow. Amateurishly shot, edited, acted and written, with elements of the production that seem unfinished, this Smith’s worst film. Yes. Worse than Cop Out.
Relying on ungodly amounts of Canadian stereotypes, including the inevitable “aboots” “Ehs” and “Sorries,” Smith evidently has an admiration for the country but no sense of Canada beyond our love for hockey.
A film by first-time director Myles Joris-Peyrafitte, who is a student of Kelly Reichardt, has become one of the festival’s revelations and discoveries. As You Are (7/10) is a visceral film where the conflict, characters and narrative slowly reveal themselves through details that foreshadow deeper hurt, unease and social injustice. Opening with an overhead shot of two boys entering a forest before cutting to black when a gunshot echoes, we follow these character as they become friends – and potentially something more than that. When two of their divorced parents become a couple, a sexual force spurts between the two boys.
As the film flashes back between police interrogation footage and all of the characters involved in the tragedy, we are led to believe two things: either one of the boys has committed suicide or he was murdered by the other. The way the film sidesteps those expectations while asking us to consider the societal factors that contributed to this pivotal event is brilliant. The twist is at the expense of more even storytelling, but the film shows great promise from a potentially outstanding director.
There are things I might always remember from Sundance – seeing Manchester By The Sea, brushing shoulders with Richard Linklater, making new friends – others I may forget – a friendly volunteer who helped me daily, the little chats standing in line. One thing that will always be engraved in my mind, however, is an almost pointless few seconds from Certain Women. Transitioning between scenes to establish a setting where two characters are meeting at a diner for a meal, Reichardt lingers on something never shown in movies; she uses a long-take to depict all the people, work, and process needed to stage the scene. We focus on the background, the townspeople that are never represented who have lives as complex as the main characters. Although we are the protagonists of our own movie, we will all go back home separately, all face our own issues, but for this brief instance we all sat in a cinema and witnessed a masterpiece.