For an unusual Montana film-viewing experience, you might take in “Certain Women,” a 2016 film written and directed by Kelly Reichardt.
We watched it Saturday night on cable and found it both oddly inert and strangely mesmerizing.
Not only was the movie filmed in Montana, it is filled with Montana connections. Reichardt based it on three short stories by Maile Meloy, who grew up in Helena. Its stars include Michelle Williams, who grew up in Kalispell, and Lily Gladstone, who was born on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and has a degree from the University of Montana.
The movie tells three stories that are barely connected. In the first, Laura Dern plays a Livingston lawyer representing a man who gets himself involved in what may be lowest-key hostage situation in the history of cinema.
In the second, we meet the wife (Williams) of the man who is cheating on her with Dern’s character. The marriage is strained, and their daughter hates her mother. But instead of marital fireworks, Reichardt gives us a trip to negotiate the purchase of some sandstone from an acquaintance.
In the third – and best — vignette, Gladstone plays a ranch hand who casually drops in on a school law class in Belfry and is smitten by the teacher (Kristen Stewart). Gladstone’s character wants something more to come of their relationship than a few meals at a diner, but nothing does.
If you are guessing that little happens in this film, you are right. Action-movie fans won’t find much to see here, unless their idea of high excitement is watching a pickup run through a barbed-wire fence.
The movie also plays odd tricks with geography. Stewart’s character drops the school law class because it involves driving twice a week from Livingston to Belfry, which she characterizes as a four-hour journey. That seems like an unnecessarily laggardly pace, although it’s worth noting that the one time we see the trip being made, the exit sign for Bear Canyon Road on Interstate 90 near Bozeman shows up clearly. Driving from Belfry to Livingston by way of Bozeman could indeed take four hours.
The credits give thanks to the cities of Livingston and Clyde Park, population 288. Some of the scenes clearly were shot in Livingston. I don’t know what Clyde Park contributed.
The slow pace and lack of action help explain why the movie, despite high critical praise, grossed barely a million dollars in a limited release (including a run at the Art House Cinema in Billings). But we found it almost impossible to quit watching. The stark landscapes, with mountains looming endlessly in the distance, the slow pace, the long silences, all evoke Montana in a striking and haunting way.
Gladstone’s performance is particularly heartbreaking, almost too painful in its wordless way to describe. You just have to see it.