A star of Kelly Reichardt’s 2013 film, Night Moves, Jesse Eisenberg sums up the director perfectly: “This is a person who is more interested in depicting the reality of drama in life, rather than a fictionalised, falsely cathartic experience.”
In just over two decades, Reichardt has made six features steeped in a reality that isn’t always seen on the screen. From the almost road trip of her debut, River of Grass, to the telling triptych of tales in Certain Women, her films can’t be neatly classed as either bleak or buoyant. Instead, they’re astutely observed portraits of the ebbs and flows between both extremes.
The Reichardt essentials
“All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” Jean-Luc Godard famously claimed. In Kelly Reichardt’s films, a canine and a car work just as well. A yearning for somewhere to belong and a quest to find it; a yearning for someone to connect with and a dog to deliver unconditional affection — both sit at the heart of the American filmmaker’s features. The films, which may be small in number, have proved to be big, brave and brilliantly perceptive in their impact ever since River of Grass heralded her arrival as a unique cinematic voice.
Take a tour of Reichardt’s filmography and be taken on a journey. The destinations change, as do the on-screen travellers, their trials and tumult, and the scenery, but the sensations conjured remain the same. In her aforementioned first effort, audiences step into the shoes of a woman certain she wants more, but uncertain of exactly what or how to get it. River of Grass introduced the writer/director’s minimalist style — controlling the sights within the frame with poetic precision, but letting the nuances of her cast’s performances do much of the talking. Everything that has followed could be characterised in the same way.
In Old Joy, one of Reichardt’s rare male-focused efforts, the searching characters are old pals on a hike, trying to reconnect but discovering the distance between them. In Wendy and Lucy, a woman’s attempt to head to Alaska for a fresh start with her beloved dog sparks a pivotal choice, as heartbreakingly conveyed by Michelle Williams. Though experimenting with new genres in Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves, the filmmaker’s dalliance with Westerns and thrillers saw her continued commitment to diving deep into the needs and desires that drive humanity in her quiet yet commanding way. Certain Women marked her return to the more straightforward drama mould, with its examination of women fighting for something other than a mundane existence dictated by the wills and ways of men. It also marked her best film to date — a feat that, given the strength of Reichardt’s entire output thus far, can’t be underestimated.
Two things you mightn’t know
- Twelve years after making her filmmaking debut with River of Grass, Reichardt’s second feature only came to fruition after she received a $30,000 inheritance from her late aunt.
- Reichardt’s own dog, Lucy, featured in both Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy — playing a dog called Lucy both times. Certain Women is dedicated to the now-late canine.
Five films you really need to see
River of Grass: In her authentic, assured, multi-award-nominated debut, Reichardt makes “a road movie that never hits the road”, as Todd Haynes describes it, charting the malaise-driven exploits of an unhappy housewife.
Old Joy: A friendly camping trip turns into a rumination on life’s disparities and disappointments, complete with lush nature-lined cinematography and a score by Yo La Tengo.
Wendy and Lucy: Starring Michelle Williams, Reichardt’s account of a woman searching for a better life — and later for her canine companion — ranks among the most heartfelt tales of human-animal friendship put to screen.
Meek’s Cutoff: In her second film starring Michelle Williams, Reichardt takes on the Western. The true tale — a survivalist exploration of a band of settlers’ frontier travels — is handled in a contemplative, commentary-laden and compellingly performed fashion.
Certain Women: Montana life and existences lived in the shadow of men beat down upon four determined women. Reichardt’s patient yet probing, vignette-driven effort features Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone.
Meek's Cutoff is currently streaming at SBS On Demand:
Who’s sharing the Reichardt love?
Todd Haynes: The Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven and Carol filmmaker has acted as an executive producer on all of Reichardt’s features since 2006’s Old Joy.
Jon Raymond: Reichardt’s frequent writing collaborator, Raymond’s short stories formed the basis for both Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, for which he also co-wrote the screenplays. He also scripted Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves.
John Robinson: After making his acting debut in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, Robinson would also play a pivotal part in Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy.
Lily Gladstone: A standout among Certain Women’s impressive cast in only her fourth feature role, Gladstone was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and a Gotham Award for her performance.
Jesse Eisenberg: The Zombieland and The Social Network star played the lead in Reichardt’s Night Moves.
What should I watch next?
Get a glimpse at Reichardt’s jump into thriller territory with the trailer for Night Moves on SBS On Demand:
The Vice Guide To Film airs every Tuesday at 10:40pm on SBS VICELAND. Fans of Kelly Reichardt will want to check out her film Night Moves, streaming at SBS On Demand from 15 March.