In her new movie “Certain Women,” Kelly Reichardt, who has quietly become one of America’s best filmmakers, once again does what she does best: tells simple stories and finds little moments that shed light on the human condition.
Recently promoting the movie at the Mill Valley Film Festival, Reichardt said that choosing the three Maile Meloy short stories comprising the film was a matter of instinct, of listening to her “nagging” feelings.
The stories — about a lawyer (Laura Dern) and her troubled client (Jared Harris), a woman (Michelle Williams) designing her new home, and a young law student (Kristen Stewart) who makes a connection with a lonely ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) — cross over in peripheral ways, but are mostly self-contained.
“I never wanted to impose heavy connections,” she says. “It’s just people passing through each other’s lives on the perimeter. Hopefully it’s an emotional whole.”
She says she initially sent drafts of her early screenplays to Meloy, but decided to stop.
“It was freaking her out, which in turn was freaking me out,” Reichardt says. “They were really not good drafts. I’m sure they were completely terrifying for her. I was still finding my way.”
Reichardt’s work is often characterized by an abundance of exterior scenes, and a subtle, naturalistic sound design.
She admits that, starting out, she wrote mostly exterior scenes in hopes of using natural light and saving money on equipment. But on her last film, “Night Moves,” she found herself stuck.
“The hardest scene was when I was in a kitchen, a rectangle room,” she says. “I thought: How do you shoot this? I knew when I was working on this script that, being confused over a kitchen, I had to tackle some interiors, just learn how to work with space.”
But the shoot also provided new challenges, such as when she discovered how windy Livingston, Mont., really was, and how that would affect sound.
“Wind is hard to record well, but we had this amazing sound recordist,” she says. “The wind would make these incredible sounds according to where we were, and it was so musical. In almost every spot the wind offered some new sound that we hadn’t heard before.”
Yet another familiar element in Reichardt’s films is actress Michelle Williams. “Certain Women” is their third outing together, after “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff.”
Reichardt says she doesn’t have to tiptoe around the actress.
“She likes playing someone that’s not really likable,” Reichardt explains. “She’s just… game.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Jared Harris
Written and directed by Kelly Reichardt
Running time 1 hour 47 minutes