With her two most recent films — 2006's Old Joy (pictured) and last year's Wendy and Lucy — director Kelly Reichardt has become one of our most perceptive observers of outsiders, turning the Pacific Northwest (specifically, the outlying areas surrounding her hometown of Portland) into a microcosm for the decaying individualist spirit in an increasingly-conformist American society. But unlike so many independent filmmakers, there isn't anything adorable or idealized about her wayward characters. In Old Joy, two college friends reunite in their mid-30s — one, an anxious soon-to-be father (Daniel London), the other an irredeemable drifter (Will Oldham) — for a camping trip that reveals the widening gap separating their worldviews as they face equally uncertain futures. Wendy and Lucy focuses on a younger, less confident wanderer: 20-something Wendy (a never-better Michelle Williams) who has bolted from her Indiana home with her golden retriever Lucy in the hopes of reaching the untamed beauty of Alaska — only to have the plan get sidetracked after Lucy goes missing and the money runs short. Capturing both Oregon's natural beauty and its sleepy, dazed small-town communities, Reichardt seems to know her characters from the inside out, and although she sympathizes with their existential crises, she doesn't take sides or play favorites, striving instead to illustrate how external factors and internal desires work together to determine our destiny. Her clear-eyed objectivity intensifies the films' poignancy, and it makes their endings so achingly unresolved: Is Wendy saved or lost forever? Which of the men in Old Joy is more likely doomed to unhappiness? The West used to be America's symbol for opportunity, adventure and individual freedom. In Kelly Reichardt's films, it's the last safe haven for outsiders — but there's no guarantee it'll be here tomorrow.

Tue., April 14, 7:30 p.m.; Wed., April 15, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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