Over the past 25 years, acclaimed independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt has forged a quiet but powerful body of work that radically challenges the meaning and worth of the American dream. Her impressive 1994 debut, River of Grass, toyed with the archetypes of genre while maintaining its decidedly slice-of-life feel — a coolly subversive method that marks all of Reichardt’s films. Her next three features — Old Joy (2006), Wendy and Lucy (2008), and Meek’s Cutoff (2010), all based on writings by Jonathan Raymond — were shot and set in Oregon, a location well-suited to Reichardt’s double-edged vision of wide-open spaces and man-made constriction.
A charged indeterminacy hangs over most of Reichardt’s protagonists, accentuated by the brusque, dispatch-like quality of her narratives: we encounter her characters at critical junctures in their lives, with little pre-story, and their respective fates are left largely to our imaginations. Reichardt’s characters are worriers, and walkers: they wander, wondering. In their various peregrinations — Wendy’s tenacious search for her beloved dog, the wagon train slowly rolling (rather trudging) along the endless flatlands of the Oregon Trail in Meek’s Cutoff, the woodland treks in First Cow (2019) — we sense their halting decisiveness, their quiet panic, their walking in circles. Their silence bespeaks worlds, and it is in these pauses that Reichardt’s films have the power to engender a startling empathy.
There’s a momentous quality to Reichardt’s quiet introspection, all of it on display in this Director’s Spotlight, which includes the newly released First Cow.
Senior Film Curator, TIFF