The Oscars (part two – Kelly Reichardt & the Bechdel Test)

Blog, Film, Women to love

So what did I do when the world was talking about the Oscars (a belated retelling).

I went to see Kelly Reichardt’s film Certain Women hosted by the Bechdel Test Fest and then listened to her talk about it. And it was a great idea!

Hurrah for the Bechdel Test Fest! This being, in their own words, ‘an ongoing celebration of films that pass the Bechdel Test‘.

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To pass the test the film must have:

  1. At least two female characters
  2. They must both have names
  3. And they have to talk to each other (just once) about something other than a man.

It’s a very low bar – but over half of the top grossing films in 2016 didn’t pass. But the Bechdel Test Fest project works to promote and showcase the films that do.  Here’s a list of their upcoming events and they’re great to fb follow.

But yes, they brought screenwriter and director Kelly Reichardt and her film Certain Women into my life. (Thank you).

The film debuted at the Sundance film festival in January 2016 and was formally released in October 2016. To write the screen play Reichardt took two short story collections from Mantana’s Maile Meloy – an American Fiction Writer who’s books I’ve subsequently amazon ordered.

The film

First off, here’s the trailer. Which really gives the best indication of what you’re in for.

The film follows four women (Laura played by Laura Dern, Gina played by Michelle Williams, The Rancher played by Lily Gladstone and Beth played by Kristen Stewart) whose stories link tenuously and at times more intimately with each other.

I’ve actually had the darned hardest time trying to sum up this film because it’s just the bees knees. Put in the most succinct terms I can muster, Certain Women felt like one of the most true to life portrayals of women I’d seen on the big screen. No over exaggeration.

This is perhaps instantly demonstrated when looking at the physical portrayal of the characters.  Their hair looking like mine does now. The clothes pulled from what could have been an actual wardrobe. In watching Laura Dern use a lint roller on her clothes. And in most of the characters appearing without make up. Most poignant for me was seeing Kristen Stewart’s character Beth stand up in front of her class with her necklace clasp and pendant hanging next to each other. As necklace clasps do – all the time!

And each woman was physically different from the other – as we are. There wasn’t a sniff of the Hollywood homogeny we are unfortunately accustomed to.

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Physical appearances aside, the film finds each character to an extent both physically and emotionally alone. Not in a sad, negative, patronising way – but it’s a poignant isolation, that seemed to me to arise as a kind of side effect of their clear intelligence and independence as women. And their choice not to conform to dated, traditional societal ideas of gender roles.

Unfortunately, they still inhabit the landscape of an inherently sexist world.

And there’s the masterpiece. The cracking juxtaposition of women just being – as we all are. In a world full of perceptions of what they/we should be. And the balancing act of of it all. (And books and books could be written on how Reichardt achieves this).

It also portrays unapologetically the suckiness of that. There’s a scene in which Laura Dern’s character, a lawyer, takes a client who won’t listen to her advice to get a second opinion from a male lawyer. The male lawyer’s verdict is instantly accepted.  ‘It would be nice to think if I were a man’ she says ‘how restful that would be’.

But there’s no shrieking, there’s no visible anger. Contrastly there’s placidity and calm. And aside from its social comment, it’s just a beautifully shot and peaceful insight into Montana. Telling three stories about complex and interesting individuals in a mesmirsing way. It was great!

The Q&A

And then there was the Q&A and Kelly Reichardt talked about the film. (Woman crush – she was so cool).

Aside from writing the screen play and directing Certain Women, Reichardt also talked about editing the film herself and said she had done this with a majority of her work due to a lack of money/funding.

At one point, someone in the audience implied they felt like one of her characters was sad. (The character in question was the lawyer who lived alone with her dog). To which Reichardt contested the absoluteness of that statement and then said – you see the image of a man and a dog out in some wilderness and it’s a picture of happiness. But this woman and her dog – people impose sadness and an incompleteness to her life. What’s that about? (Mic drop).

Somebody also asked about the future of the women – and Reichardt couldn’t answer that. As consumers we are used to narratives in which each character has trajectories, lessons to learn, things to over come – and these are stories that engage us but are removed from us in their perhaps unrealistic resemblance of  life. But Certain Women is glimpses of actual people. As if Reichardt just held a camera up to a moment in their lives. Individuals so complex in their nature how could you predict the choices that they would come to make.

After the Oscar’s funk, Reichardt and her film Certain Women reminded me exactly of why I’m doing this.

The screening was relatively small and didn’t pack out – which seemed bizarre for the price and the opportunity to listen to Reichardt – but there you go.

To sum up: Kelly Recihardt is basically a fucking genius. And Certain Women is a calm and powerful film full of relatable moments. Go watch it!