Ruth works as a ranch hand in rural Montana, a stunning landscape of wide open vistas, breathtaking sunsets and gorgeous scenery. But within this expanse of land, Ruth is lonely, isolated from community and miles away from neighbors.
But one day she spots two children at the side of the road. Ruth takes them home and makes sure they get into the house, but reluctant to leave them all alone, she stays.
But staying there, even for a short time, opens up a set of yearnings and emotions, and Ruth must confront the stark reality of her life, and the truth of her desires.
Director and co-writer Francesca Mirabella, along with co-writer and lead actress Jenna Ciralli, have fashioned a beautifully crafted, meditative and poetic drama that explores both the inner and outer landscape of a woman, cut off from the mainstream of life and community.
Leaning on stunning cinematography and quietly compelling and sensitive performances, it carefully lays out the tenor of Ruth’s life, then builds towards a surprisingly tense climax that is both wrenching and compelling in its brave honesty.
The story opens with Ruth mending a fence, establishing her as a self-sufficient, independent character unafraid of the hard work of being a ranch hand. But underneath the surface is a loneliness that feels shapeless and inchoate to Ruth — until her fateful encounter with the children by the road, which gives her a space to explore suppressed yearnings for a family of her own.
The short is a feast for the eyes, with stunning wide shots of the Montana countryside — it was shot in and around Bozeman — and sun-drenched cinematography that evokes the serene poeticism of filmmakers like Terrence Malick. It’s easy to see why Ruth would want to live and work in the area, with its stunning natural beauty and dramatic horizons, and like in many Westerns, the location is as much of a character as Ruth herself, shaping and containing her subjective experiences.
But the epic openness of Montana — and also the back-breaking nature of her work — allows Ruth the ability to escape the obligations of exploring her own needs and wishes. When she chooses to mind the two children, though, she has the chance to try on another life and choice — one that opens her up towards a breath-taking vulnerability and lays bare her longing for children, home and a family, all of which have no place in her life as it stands now.
“Willow Creek Road” is memorable not just for its sensitively observed story or the vast natural beauty it captures, but for its ability to evoke intimate, poetic revelations amidst a large-scale canvas, helping both to resonate against one another.
The Montana landscape makes us realize just how small Ruth is in this world, underscoring her isolation and loneliness. But the beauty of it also opens up a sense of wonder, and a longing to share that experience with others. With great poignancy, Ruth unfurls this previously hidden dimension within herself — and, though where it takes her is anyone’s guess at the film’s end, it opens up the world for her.