River of Grass, Kelly Reichardt's debut feature, is a quick-witted takeoff on the classic American film. Because of this, it's a film whose impact is as much a matter of tone and style as story, and Reichardt demonstrates a sparkling capacity for real cinematic expression. When thirty-year-old Cory comes to the realization that her life isn't all it might be—to say the least, her lackadaisical husband, three kids and house on a soggy acre in Broward County, Florida, leave something to be desired—she sneaks out one night to a local bar and meets her destiny, an aimless young man named Lee, who personifies the B ethic of the slightly enigmatic loser. While engaging in the evening's highlight, pool hopping, they encounter an annoyed homeowner, but unfortunately, right at that moment, Lee is demonstrating how to use his pistol, and they shoot and flee. So begins a low-key, but captivating, escapade which alternately provokes amusement and incredulity as the couple bungle their way through familiar situations and circumstances, living the life of outlaws. But they can't seem to get it right.
Shot on a miniscule budget, with terrific performances and a stark atmosphere, this is original, controlled filmmaking by creative independents who clearly understand the B-film legacy they're tapping into. As the embodiment of the Independent axiom to call on ingenuity and resourcefulness in making every dollar count, River of Grass is truly one of this Festival's most engaging surprises. To quote the filmmakers, it's a "road movie without the road, a love story without the love, a crime story without the crime," but definitely worth seeing!
Kelly Reichardt’s anthology of films explore the forgotten geographies of the Pacific Northwest and the textured working-class characters that live there. Reichardt launched her career with River of Grass, and went on to direct six more staunchly independent, critically-acclaimed films, including Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, and her most recent hit, Certain Women. Described with words typically reserved (unfairly) for male auteurs, Reichardt is hailed as a deliberate and minimalist filmmaker whose non-diegetic sounds, sparse dialogue, and independent, unsteady female characters forged a new genre of feminist Westerns.
“While a lone man can be a hero — readily and right from the start — a lone woman is cause for concern. Despite their painterly settings and near-silent soundscapes, Reichardt’s films are animated by a sustained unease. The viewer anticipates a threat that could but never quite does progress to a state of emergency. A car crash produces no injuries. A nocturnal encounter with intoxicated homeless men does not result in sexual violence. An old man gives every indication he could die at any moment but does not. The menace is durational and transforms the audience into participants in a kind of endurance art. It’s the low-grade but unrelenting sense of hazard that is a woman’s experience of merely moving through the world, an anxiety so quiet and constant it can be confused for nothing more than atmosphere.”
—Alice Gregory, The New York Times Magazine, 2016