Sunday, October 19, 2008

CIFF '08: Wendy and Lucy

It's not often you find a film that demands an audience to decipher the nature of its characters. So subtle is the film in the way it draws you into its main character Wendy, played by a mesmerizing Michelle Williams, who writer-director Kelly Reichardt advised to give up bathing and make-up, in a film that gets in deep to the rhythms of its characters' lives. As the film begins we find Wendy and her dog Lucy in Oregon en route to Alaska, where Wendy hopes to find work. A transportation problem temporarily strands Wendy and Lucy, and armed with a few hundred dollars they're forced to sleep in her car in Oregon. In a painful and believable development, Lucy goes missing, and the rest of the film follows Wendy in her search for Lucy and the trouble she encounters staying in Oregon. Like Reichardt's previous film Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy is not showy in any way. We get a real sense of life being lived on screen through the combination of the performances and Reichardt's understated, observational aesthetic. All of the information we receive about Wendy is indirect, as in a scene after Lucy goes missing, Wendy calls her sister in Indiana who, without prompting, mentions that she doesn't have any money to lend Wendy. One line and Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond's script tells us so much about Wendy's past, and her relationship with her sister. We can draw these few suppositions about Wendy from the film, but beyond that we're left to watch this woman and decipher her emotions and state of mind. The film's success is due in large part Michelle Williams, and in the years since her flirtation with teen stardom, she's had an eclectic career in non-commercial film. Working with Wim Wenders, Todd Haynes, Ang Lee, Tom McCarthy, and others, Williams has turned in performances with progressive depth and skill. So quiet she is in this film, so immersed in this character that you don't for a second question the authenticity of her performance or her circumstances. There's little I can say that can express the tone of the film or the lack of forcedness and plotting, other than to say that the performances are excellent, the photography is splendid, and the film is pitch perfect and among the best I've seen this year.

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