The Another

    Kelly Reichardt depicts the life of an artist at work



    Lizzy (Michelle Williams) in Kelly Reichardt's 'Showing Up.'


    Two months after Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, we find Michelle Williams once again in an apron, as comfortable in it as she is in the world of her friend Kelly Reichardt, having worked on four films together. Reichardt is an important filmmaker who has crafted an understated body of work, unraveling cinematic conventions based on violent intensity and a severe addiction to “big movie moments.”

    Presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, Show-Up is a self-portrait of the artist projected onto the protagonist, Lizzy, a young sculptor living in Portland, Oregon, juggling between preparing her next exhibition and an administrative job at an art school run by her mother.

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    Reichardt mercilessly deprives her actress of glamor. Here is Michelle Williams, a Hollywood star, in white socks and Crocs, stripped of her make-up and platinum blonde hair and instructed never to smile. Perpetually irritable, Lizzy is preoccupied with only one thing: making progress on her work in preparation for her upcoming art show. But the life of an artist is made of things besides long periods of contemplation: First of all, there is Jo, her neighbor and landlady, also an artist, who has better things to do than fix her tenant’s hot water. A cat to feed, a pigeon to babysit, an unstable brother, parents to support, and her damn job are always stealing her precious time.

    There is plenty of room for debate about the filmmaker’s ambiguous depiction of the school where Lizzy works. It is safe to assume that, beneath a neutral façade, she has sketched an ironic portrait of institutionalized art. The art school is portrayed as a daycare center for a tribe of spoiled neo-hippies who are unaware of their privilege and whose works are observed with deadpan irony.

    Precarious focus

    In contrast, here is Lizzy, decidedly less cool than the students she interacts with, sculpting not within the white walls of a subsidized institution, but in her own drafty garage. There is something very true being said here about the creative act: Concentration is an incredibly precarious state. Art is something that must be torn from reality, and woven into life. It emerges precisely from an urgency, from an impossibility that must be overcome every morning. Far from the virile romanticism with which the cinema often depicts the inspired artist, Lizzy’s ultimate dream is by no means ethereal, but totally concrete: a whole afternoon without anyone coming to disturb her.

    Reichardt films her protagonist’s craft like a long prayer, again focusing her directorial gaze on this tiny spectacle: Matter and the world are transformed by a sum of infinitesimal gestures performed out of sight. This same fascination, the idea of ​​a simple gesture marking a before and after, was already present in First Cow (2019) and Night Moves (2013).

    So Reichardt’s cinematography is like a microscope trained on this tipping point, on the suspense of the hand that eventually creates an event. In this, it is reminiscent of Jeanne Dielman… (1975) by Chantal Akerman, in the way Reichardt returns the profane dimension to the creative act. Here, the apron is diverted from its domestic function; instead of meals, the protagonist cooks glazed ceramic statuettes (actually by the American artist Cynthia Lahti). Thus demythologized and stripped of its bourgeois connotations, art becomes once again a kitchen like any other, finding its place in the everyday world.

    The art opening that concludes Show-Up gives rise to an emotion that the whole film was secretly working toward: One by one, we discover Lizzy’s small sculptures, as her friends and dysfunctional family gather around them. Between one and the other, between reality and the work, there is a black hole, which is precisely the mystery of creation and, therefore, of our heroine. Rarely has the role of the artist been so clearly articulated, and likewise her generosity, which has nothing to do with her congeniality or her quota of smiles per day. Rather, it has to do with a certain degree of permeability to the world, a capacity to absorb it, love it and express that love, very quietly, in the privacy of a garage.

    American film by Kelly Reichardt. Starring Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Maryann Plunkett (running time 1:50).

    Translation of an original article published in English on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.

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