Home Architect Amy Taubin on the arrival of Kelly Reichardt

Amy Taubin on the arrival of Kelly Reichardt

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Kelly Reichardt, Showing Up, 2022, video, color, sound, 108 minutes.  Lizzie (Michelle Williams).

THE MOST EVOCATIVE WORD with which to describe Kelly Reichardt’s films is “homemade”, in the sense of something that is handmade and textured, as opposed to smooth, shiny or eye-catching. Reichardt is a prolific filmmaker, at least among those who make small independent feature films. Until now, his most successful and touching works were Wendy and Lucia (2008) and the third section of Some women (2016), a double for Kristen Stewart and the remarkable Lily Gladstone in her first major role. Wendy and Lucia stars Michelle Williams, just like Reichardt’s last film, To show upand again, the trust between director and actor is evident throughout this absurdly uplifting, near-perfect film.

Williams plays Lizzie, a Portland-based ceramist who lives with a cat in a cramped apartment above a garage she’s turned into a studio. She rents the space from her longtime friend Jo (Hong Chau), who lives next door and is also an artist. Both women do sculptural work that falls somewhere between craft and fine art, if such a distinction is valid. To show up is all about Lizzie; Jo is only his foil. What, in a lesser film, might just be a running gag over a broken plumbing becomes a contextual clue that partly answers the question of why some talented people have important careers and others, who may be even more gifted. and dedicated, go unnoticed. Specifically, Lizzie hasn’t been able to take a shower at home for weeks because her water heater has broken down. It’s Jo’s responsibility to fix it, but whenever Lizzie asks her to do something, Jo replies “I’ll take care of it” and leaves. Jo only shows up for Jo, and that’s why she has two shows opening in the same week and already has some sort of engagement from a New York dealer. Her work, collages of wire, fabric and metal, is flamboyant and takes up a lot of space. Lizzie, on the other hand, makes small, delicate figures of women, their torsos twisted and their limbs thrown into extreme positions, as if to escape the pull of gravity. (The works of Lizzie are by Cynthia Lahti: those of Jo by Michelle Segre.) Since Williams’ Lizzie is firmly grounded, we understand these figures as projections of her inner struggle to shed the weight of her circumstances. and take flight by making art.

To show up– at the end of the film, you will understand the layers of puns in the title – may seem like a simple character study, but in fact it is a carefully plotted narrative in which the hero faces a series of obstacles on the way to achieving a goal. And in addition, a moment of transcendence that we share. The screenplay is by Jon Raymond, who wrote five of Reichardt’s early films: The Marvelous old joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucia and flat-footed wood Meek Cut (2010), Night movements (2013), and first cow (2019). I thought Reichardt would never recover from these attempts to paint on large canvases with limited means. But by returning to a place and a way of life that she knows intimately, she has made a film that is much more than exterior activity and dialogue. Together with Williams—and with his longtime cinematographer, Christopher Blauvelt, who found a way to give digital capture the smoothness of 16mm—Reichardt does what few films or works of art visual enable: it gives us the time and space to access an inner world that is unspoken and invisible, except in gestures such as a hand pushing and smoothing a piece of clay, or absentmindedly using a broom to sweep a injured pigeon by the front door. The pigeon, which mistakenly flew into Lizzie’s apartment and was mutilated by her cat, becomes a burden she carries through an increasingly harrowing week in which every member of the family and friend of his supposed support system just does not pass. Nevertheless, they all show up for her opening – the pigeon too – and although each of them is capable of wreaking havoc on the magical world that Lizzie has created in this little gallery – well, I won’t say the end, except to say that transcendence is sometimes the result of the non-realization of the worst anticipated, and of a change of direction of the gaze.

To show up is currently playing in US theaters.

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