“The lies are in the dialogue, the truth is in the visuals.” – Kelly Reichardt
Recently releasing her lyrical beauty First Cow with A24, the writer, director and arguable auteur of American cinema Kelly Reichardt, is one of contemporary cinema’s most quietly consistent voices. Her filmography is one typified with elevating the voices of those who would otherwise linger on life’s fringes, whether it’s the sombre tones of middle-aged men in 2006s Old Joy, or the anxious minds of environmentalists in Night Moves.
Following the release of her debut film River of Grass, which received a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Reichardt however found it hard to make another feature film, commenting “I had 10 years from the mid-1990s when I couldn’t get a movie made. It had a lot to do with being a woman. That’s definitely a factor in raising money. During that time, it was impossible to get anything going, so I just said, ‘Fuck you!’ and did Super 8 shorts instead”.
Recognising her own style of minimalist storytelling, Reichardt commented that her films are “just glimpses of people passing through,” utilising slow cinema methods of long takes and minimal dialogue. The same can be said for the films that have inspired the director throughout her years as a filmmaker, listing her top ten (in no particular order) in discussion with Criterion.
The first film on her list is Ousmane Sembène’s Senegalese film, Black Girl, following a young black girl, Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), from Senegal who moves to France to become a servant. “I didn’t know anything going into this movie,” Reichardt commented to Criterion. “And I was completely captivated the entire time,” she notes. Elaborating on her love for the film, the director continues, saying: “The lead performance is amazing, and I just love the way it all unfolds”.
Perhaps it is the quiet innocence of youth that attracts Kelly Reichardt to coming-of-age tales, with the second film on her top ten list being Robert Bresson’s Mouchette, a film that follows a young girl living in the French countryside who suffers from constant indignities from the men of her life. “This is a perfectly structured film,” Reichardt notes, “I love the opening with the birds, which serves as this sublime foreshadowing of what’s going to happen”. Commenting on the performance of lead actress Nadine Nortier, the director commented that, “She doesn’t talk much at all, but because of her gestures—even just the way she makes coffee—the movie never feels stilted”.
Both Black Girl and Mouchette join Satyajit Ray’s classic Pather Panchali in a trio of coming-of-age tales that Reichardt appreciates and is inspired by, noting that it “has been a touchstone for me through my entire adult life”. “It stuck with me, and I return to it over and over again because it’s endlessly beautiful. I love the economy of Ray’s shooting style,” the director commented, “He always does these simple pans, or he’ll just have people walk toward and away from the camera. There are no complicated bilateral moves, and he really just goes with what’s in the frame”.
We move away from the innocent viewpoint of children and toward instead the colourful representation of life seen in Jacques Tati’s Playtime, telling the story of a man trying to adapt to the high-tech contemporary world of Paris. As Reichardt observes, “It’s all so cartoony, but you’re worried about this character the whole time,” with much of this coming down to the terrific performance of director and lead actor Jacques Tati. “Everything is done through gesture, and Tati’s performance is so brilliant it makes you feel such concern for this man drifting in this modern world,” Reichardt says.
The first documentary on Kelly Reichardt’s list, A Poem Is a Naked Person, captures the music and the various other events that occur at Leon Russell’s Oklahoma recording studio during a three-year period (1972-1974). “What a strange movie,” Reichardt observes, “Those film stocks don’t exist anymore—this is 16 mm at its best, and it looks gorgeous”. Capturing the spirit of life in America’s counter-cultural 1970s, Reichardt discusses how director Les Blank manages to capture time and place so well. “Les Blank was shooting with all this natural light, and it makes for such a great portrait of the South at a certain moment in time with a bunch of total weirdos,” she said.
Of all Todd Haynes’ classics, it is 1995s Safe, following the life of a woman who develops multiple chemical sensitivity, that is Kelly Reichardt’s sixth favourite film on her list. Effecting Julianne Moore’s Carol so much so that she moves to a countryside commune, Reichardt comments: “I never tire of using this film in the classroom, because there’s always more to glean from it, and I say this as someone who has seen it many, many times”.
Continuing she notes, “It’s so masterful, and it’s some of my favourite Todd Haynes writing—it’s so darkly funny,” earmarking Moore’s performance and the film’s enigmatic tone as particular high points.
Back, at least in part, to the world of coming-of-age tales, Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey follows a pregnant teenage girl who must fend for herself when her mother remarries, leaving only the child with a new male friend for support. Released during a 1960s society where homosexuality was still a contentious subject, Reichardt praises the film for its “astonishing” story. “Everything about her life and the morality depicted in it is so 1950s, but she’s this outcast, and is not even very likeable. But you’re completely on her side,” the director says. “Can you think of another female role like that?”.
“An influence on First Cow,” as stated by Reichardt, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu is a tale of family, love and war set in the midst of the sixteenth century Japanese Civil War. “I was drawn to how down-to-the-ground the cinematography is, and how you spend so much time with these characters who are ambitious craftspeople,” the director notes. In particular, appreciating how Mizoguchi captures life’s small details, she comments: “There’s such a simplicity and earthiness to the way Mizoguchi captures details, like the thatched roofs in the corners of the frames or the atmosphere at the marketplace”.
Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout is a dreamlike experience following a brother and sister who become stranded in the Australian outback due to bizarre circumstances, and team up with an Aboriginal boy to find their way home. It’s Reichardt’s ninth pick, choosing the film for Nicolas Roeg’s ability to create “incredible montages that tell a story more associatively,” that strikes her most. “There’s this feeling throughout the movie that there were many different ways that it could have been put together,” citing a scene in 2010s Meek’s Cutoff where a Native American goes on a dream quest that was heavily influenced by Roeg’s classic.
Check out the full list of Kelly Reichardt’s 10 favourite films, according to the Criterion Collection, below.
Kelly Reichardt’s 10 favourite films:
- Black Girl – (Ousmane Sembène, 1966)
- Mouchette – (Robert Bresson, 1967)
- Pather Panchali – (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
- Playtime -(Jacques Tati, 1967)
- A Poem Is a Naked Person – (Les Blank, 1974)
- Safe – (Todd Haynes, 1995)
- A Taste of Honey – (Tony Richardson, 1961)
- Ugetsu – (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
- Walkabout – (Nicolas Roeg, 1971)
- Wanda – (Barbara Loden, 1970)
The final film on Reichardt’s list is Barbara Loden’s Wanda, following a lonely housewife who drifts through the mining country of America until she meets a thief who takes her in, “Why isn’t Barbara Loden more celebrated in the history of film? I don’t understand,” she notes. “Aside from her performance and her sense of framing, I love the way she plays with genre in unexpected ways in this movie,” Reichardt comments.
From the spirit of her top 10 favourite films, it seems as though Reichardt is a large supporter of the revolutionary filmmaker, particularly ones that boost the profiles of otherwise silenced characters.