Certain Women is a beautiful film. Much like walking through a gallery of landscapes, from the get-go we’re treated to expansive, thunderous Montana vistas shot with evident care and appreciation.

Opening with a long-hold on an approaching train, Director Kelly Reichardt lets the camera rest on the daily routines of rural life and the picturesque locales that her assortment of characters have made their home, where even a cavalcade of buildings can’t distract from the rise of scene-chewing mountains and plains.

Centred on three women (Laura, Gina and Beth – Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart respectively), roughly three acts depict each person at quiet and often seemingly inconsequential moments, alternately switching to more dramatic fare as Laura’s client-drama turns into an oddly amusing hostage crisis, replete with unexpectedly nonchalant police officers.

Gina’s efforts to build a house back-ends the two most substantive tales, the second act suffering, as do other parts of the film, from being over all too quickly, nor explored in any great depth. Stewart’s Beth encounters one of her student’s Jamie (Lily Gladstone) outside the classroom and an evocative relationship grows – soon becoming increasingly restless and all the more powerful for their dynamic being largely unarticulated.

Stewart’s turn is the most fully realised, with her and Dern offering excellent performances as overworked and highly frustrated lawyers. Each tale on its own is interesting but regretfully short-lived, leaving no time for the appreciation of a larger story which is notably missing, as is any significant interaction between the 3-4 central characters. There is one scene where two players from different strands encounter each other, but that is evidently incidental rather than contributing to any wider narrative.

A fine supporting cast (Star Trek’s Rene Auberjonois and Mad Men’s Jared Haris) round out a strikingly well-performed ensemble piece, markedly absent of any meaningful interaction between its various stories while what of Montana is captured on camera belays your attention for much of the film.

Certain Women is screening at the Sydney Film Festival

Glen Falkenstein on 2ser