The Loud Part Quiet: The Films of Kelly Reichardt
Kelly Reichardt’s films trace the lines between the natural world, the realities of modern life, and the people lost in between. They are often quiet films with a lot to say, but Reichardt always gives her audience the respect and room to build their own conclusions, and draw their own meanings.
Much like the great works of Chantal Akerman, Reichardt’s films are populated by characters at odds with their environments, lonely and yearning for more, searching to find a deeper sense of fulfillment. Reichardt depicts modern American life as it really is, often through the eyes of the characters living in poverty or on the margins of society.
From the brash beginnings of River of Grass, up to the elegant triptych of Certain Women, Kelly Reinhardt’s filmography has proven time and time again that her unique voice and idiosyncratic approach makes her one of the greatest American directors working today.
River of Grass
Kelly Reichardt’s debut is a ‘road movie without a road.’, set in the Florida Everglades, is a brasher, wilder take on her usual themes. A young mother yearning to escape, embarks on a dangerous adventure. River of Grass comes off like a cross between two other famous debuts: Chantal Akerman’s Je, Tu, Il, Elle and Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket.
(2006) – Read full review.
Perhaps Reichardt’s quietest film. A man on the cusp of fatherhood goes on a camping with an old friend. The soothing trip through the lush green forests of Oregon scored by Yo La Tengo, is juxtaposed against the tension between the two men. Both face uncertain futures, and time has worn away at their friendship. In the isolation of the forest, however, tiny fragments of honesty penetrate the masculine facade to speak to these anxieties, but any insight or change fades away on the return home.
Wendy and Lucy
Reichardt’s third film, and one of her most beloved, stars Michelle Williams as a drifter making her way up to Alaska to start anew with her dog. Her struggle to make this journey is amplified at every turn, by each mounting problem. This is a incredible depiction of life on the margins, showing exactly how expensive it is to be poor, and Williams gives this role a gripping emotional foundation.
The first Kelly Reichardt film set in the past is also her most daring. Her deconstruction of the American Western through a feminist lens is a fierce teardown of a mythos built on white male fantasy. Violent and incompetent men lead a caravan in circles, lost in the desert as the women quietly watch and endure what appears to be a slow march to their deaths. The masterful cinematography and an excellent cast brings this story to life, making this a must watch.
Reichardt’s take on a crime thriller is fascinating. While the plot is fairly conventional, the journey is suspenseful and underlying themes entrancing. Three environmentalists plan to blow up a dam. Familiar Reichardt themes abound as she applies her incisive lens onto the subject of eco-terrorism. Notable parallels can be found to the feminism of Meek’s Cutoff, as well as the ethical interrogations of Paul Schrader’s First Reformed and Bertrand Bonello’s fantastic Nocturama.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime
(2016) – Read full review
Reichardt’s latest, and my favorite of her films thus far, is based on the short stories of Malie Maloy. It tells three loosely intertwined stories of women living in rural Montana. Each of these characters is filled with a profound longing that they are unable to satisfy. Each character is in a state of yearning, hoping to uncover something to validate the small indignities of the day to day. A fantastic cast comprised of Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, and Kristen Stewart make give this spectacular meditation on loneliness, womanhood, and the American West the emotional foundations it needs.
Where to stream: Netflix
Kelly Reichardt’s next film is set to release in the US in 2020, and is based on the novel The Half-Life by frequent collaborator Jonathan Raymond. Raymond had written the story for Old Joy, and screenplays for Wendy & Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, and Night Moves.
Like Meek’s Cutoff the film will once again dive into the past taking place in 1820’s Oregon. However, this time, the journey won’t be restricted to the continent, taking place in both America and China.
Release date: March 2020
Kelly Reichardt’s film about old friends on a weekend camping trip is a perfect showcase of her mastery of pace and tone, and a great entry point into her filmography.
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A review of the startling Styx (2019). This taut moral thriller explores the costs of inaction in the face of crisis.