The expanses of the American Northwest take center stage in this intimately observed triptych from Kelly Reichardt. Adapted from three short stories by Maile Meloy and unfolding in self-contained but interlocking episodes, Certain Women navigates the subtle shifts in personal desire and social expectation that unsettle the circumscribed lives of its characters: a lawyer (Laura Dern) forced to subdue a troubled client; a woman (Michelle Williams) whose plans to construct her dream home reveal fissures in her marriage; and a night-school teacher (Kristen Stewart) who forms a tenuous bond with a lonely ranch hand (Lily Gladstone), whose unguardedness and deep attachment to the land deliver an unexpected jolt of emotional immediacy. With unassuming craft, Reichardt captures the rhythms of daily life in small-town Montana through these fine-grained portraits of women trapped within the landscape’s wide-open spaces.
The Criterion Collection presents Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women on Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K scan of the original 16mm negative.
A recent film (released in 2016) there’s no shock the image looks good, though I guess I couldn’t help but feel it could maybe look better. It’s an incredibly crisp image loaded with detail throughout most of the film, with even the individual blades of grass in the large number of scenic shots rendered sharply. The film is fairly grainy but it’s mostly rendered well and the film does keep a filmic look a majority of the time.
The colours scheme is a bit muted but I found saturation levels excellent, even the grays and browns coming off quite striking. A few sequences present snowy landscapes and these look absolutely wonderful. Black levels are decent though I found some of the darker shots—particularly in the dark stables in the one section of the film—crushed out the details a bit. The digital presentation is quite clean though I noticed one odd effect at the end of the third segment: there is a shot of a truck in a field with the wind blowing the long grass and there’s an odd shimmering effect in just one area of this field. It’s the only time I noticed such a thing, the rest of the film looking perfectly fine.
Despite some off moments the film on the whole looks quite wonderful. Brighter scenes are crisp and highly detailed and it retains a filmic look. It’s really nice.
Certain Women comes with a unexpectedly immersive and robust 5.1 surround track, delivered in DTS-HD MA. I was most taken with the subtle sound effects placed throughout the film. There always seems to be a train somewhere in the background (at least most of the time) and you can faintly hear the horn or the clacking on the tracks in the distance, and thanks to the slick and smooth direction between speakers I actually thought there was a train nearby (I don’t live all that far from tracks). There are also other subtle effects of busy streets or patrons in a diner, and it’s all mixed incredibly well, placing you in the action. There is also a moment with horse hooves hitting a wood floor that was surprisingly dynamic, even making nice use of the lower frequency. There’s no music in the film, other than what we get for the closing credits and whatever might be on a radiom but it sounds nice during these moments.
Where the track can seem a little off is during some spoken moments. Dialogue is easy to hear but there can be a rather harsh flatness to it at times, muffling it a bit. It’s not always like this and seems to happen in more cramped spaces (like cars) so I suspect it might just be how it was recorded. Still, despite this one issue, I found the track to offer a rather great, dynamic mix for what is really a very quiet and reflective film.
There isn’t a lot here, more than likely because it’s a newer film and there isn’t a lot of material on it yet, but there are some good interviews here starting with one featuring director Kelly Reichardt. The history behind this production was (at least for me) intriguing as it sounds like some of the film’s best aspects were created completely by chance, like making the city of Livingston a central point to the film (amusingly she wanted to call the film Livingston Blows based on a shirt she saw but was talked out of it), using film instead of digital because it would capture the snow better (and, of course, it ended up rarely snowing), and dropping the film’s score (which was completed) at the last minute. In author Maile Meloy’s included interview she mentions that Reichardt actually had a completely different story in mind for the second segment of the film and here Reichardt explains why she ended up going with the story she did, despite her initial feelings there wasn’t much to it. She then also explains why she ended up changing one key aspect to the last story. I won’t spoil it but it’s odd to imagine this story being any other way. The interview runs around 14-minutes.
Producer Todd Haynes next pops up to talk about first meeting Reichardt and then goes into a little detail about her earlier work, from River of Grass through Night Moves before talking about Certain Women and what he admires about it. Running 14-minutes it’s fine but I found the 13-minute interview with author Maile Meloy to be far more engaging.
In her interview Meloy recalls being approached by Reichardt to adapt a few of her stories into a film and then talks about the adaptations. For the most part, she explains, they’re fairly faithful, which was a welcome surprise, but there are differences which she then points out. One change she welcomed was a rather big one in the third story and she admits it’s effective, but she was a bit disappointed that her ending for the first story was dropped (though after she explains the ending I’m not sure how well it would have adapted to film). She also talks about the influences behind the stories and her intentions with them. Criterion did something similar with 45 Years, including an interview with the original author, and like that one this proves to be a very invaluable addition to the release with the author looking at the film from a different angle.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer. An included insert then features an essay by film writer Ella Taylor on Reichardt’s career and then offers analysis for each segment in the film.
Disappointingly it’s pretty sparse, around 45-minutes’ worth of stuff including the trailer. But the interviews are all very good and worth viewing.
Not a loaded special edition by any means but the features are worth viewing and the A/V presentation is very strong.