Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)

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Kelly Reichardt’s films speak with a particular and rather outmoded cadence, a sort of clenched-jaw Western laconism. American movies and American culture writ large no longer appear interested in such restraint; heroic pauciloquy died with Gary Cooper, or something like that. Our present heroes—and orange skinned villains—fill the air with unceasing clamor, armed with the gift of gab and hair-trigger. Not that there’s anything wrong with that per se. A mythic America of tight-lipped fortitude probably never existed anyways, but it did form a national pop mythos as recently as a half century ago. As it fell out of vogue, cinema’s true believers largely retreated from multiplex screens and into the avant garde, though Clint Eastwood’s Sully was rightly hailed as a recent norm-deviating revival. Non-narrative cinema continues to offer modes of production and consumption amendable to restraint as an aesthetic and moral principle. The problem is that Peter Hutton’s or James Benning’s American landscapes probably aren’t coming to a theater near you (unless you live in Seattle, where the Northwest Film Forum is presenting a one-night-only, attendance-required selection of Hutton’s films next month). Their respective corpuses could not exist without the trail first blazed in Hollywood by someone like John Ford, himself an artist with a tendency to careen between laconism and good old Irish loquaciousness, but neither Hutton nor Benning possesses a conventional interest in storytelling that allowed Ford to thrive in a commercial industry. Enough with those pretty pictures, the people demand characters! Where is our Wyatt Earp? Where have all the strong, silent types gone? Kelly Reichardt knows.

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