BEAUTY and strength come in many different forms. Last year Kelly Reichardt and Patty Jenkins demonstrated this with two distinctly different – yet powerful – portraits of women.
One was a superhero flick that showcased a faultless, heroic female protagonist in glowing Amazonian light. The other was a triumph of life’s smaller interplays, populated by tired faces and a drained colour palette. Care to guess which was more popular at the box-office?
With the captivating Gal Gadot at the helm, Jenkins’ Wonder Woman breathed a gust of vivacity into the tiring superhero formula. Just like this year’s Black Panther, it showed that diversity in representation – behind and front of the camera – can go some considerable way to freshen up the congested superhero space.
Gadot, flanked by her equally charming partner Chris Pine, is a fiercely believable and extremely affable lead presence. Her journey through World War One battlefields to track down the evil Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is easily the most enjoyable thing to come out of the DC Extended Universe. In fact, its flairs of humour would see it slide nicely into Marvel’s infinitely more successful realm.
Where Wonder Woman excels in its empowering lead and exhilarating pace, Reichardt’s film – Certain Women – is true to life’s less sensational beats. It starts with the quiet and harsh image of a train creeping across a bare Northwest American landscape. One that, much like her film and its characters, makes you work to see its beauty.
Certain Women tells the stories of four subtly connected women – played by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart. A tremendous cast that lend sincerity to its flawed yet resolute characters. The women they portray are anything but certain – and are still finding their way through an arduous world. Gladstone and Stewart’s story of an undefined relationship is particularly absorbing as we watch the two exchange slightly timid conversation over diner meals.
Reichardt’s women give something less appealing and shiny than Wonder Woman but nevertheless essential. They bring an honesty, bareness and vulnerability that is just as useful as bullet deflecting heroinism.
Wonder Woman or Certain Women? That is not the question to be asked. There is room for both, although it would be great if more people had the patience to appreciate the strength and beauty to be found in Certain Women.
This was review 28 & 29/30 in April’s Close-up Culture Monthly Challenge – Female Filmmakers.