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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Director Kelly Reichardt admits "Wendy and Lucy" is depressing but actress Michelle Williams says making the low-budget movie -- one of the National Board of Review's top 10 independent movies of 2008 -- was a gift.
Williams has earned rave reviews for her performance as Wendy, a drifter chasing a better life who suffers a series of setbacks that culminates in losing her dog Lucy. The film opens in New York and Los Angeles theaters this week.
"It's a gift to be able to work in the exact way that you have always wanted to. I feel really lucky," said Williams as she sat beside Reichardt on a couch at the film's distributor, Oscilloscope Laboratories, in New York's Tribeca neighborhood.
"The performances aren't performances, they're just like a documentary, you feel like you are spying on people, and that has always been the kind of filmmaking that I like."
Made for less than $500,000, "Wendy and Lucy" premiered in May at the Cannes film festival where Lucy, Reichardt's own pet, won the unofficial Palm Dog prize for her role.
"She was a big upstager, always finding the lens," Williams joked of her canine co-star in the movie that was filmed in 18 days in August 2007 in and around Portland, Oregon.
Reichardt wrote the screenplay with Jon Raymond, who she also worked with on her 2006 film "Old Joy."
"He writes in the way that I make films," Reichardt said.
"Both somewhat minimalist and character driven and I like having some space to fill up. It gives actors room to be able to take their time and bring things to a scene and it leaves you room to work in the environment where you are shooting," she said.
"The story is depressing but you get a charge out of working with people you like working with."
With a simple story and little dialogue, "Wendy and Lucy" reflects the minimalist goal.
"Strong reviews and the superb central performance of Michelle Williams should help the film reach Reichardt's largest audience to date," Variety critic Scott Foundas wrote.
Reelviews' James Berardinelli said Williams' acting holds the film together.
"She's in every scene and often she's not playing off another actor. She radiates the despair, loneliness, and fear of a woman in her position, and we never doubt her," he wrote.
Reichardt said she wanted to make a film about people who fall through the cracks and play with a couple of myths like the idea that you can "go West and improve your situation."
"Or the conversation that's very much in the air during (President George W. Bush's) administration that if you have spunk and ideas and initiative, that's all you need to improve your lot in life, and if you aren't able to pull yourself out of poverty it's clearly because you are lazy," she said.
Williams said she did not find the story of "Wendy and Lucy" depressing.
"Personally I like seeing those kinds of movies," she said. "I find them comforting because they make me feel less alone."
After a tough year coping with the death of actor Heath Ledger -- her former partner and father of her young daughter Matilda -- Williams is taking time off "to get rested."
Ledger, 28, died from an accidental overdose of painkillers and other medicines in his New York City apartment in January.
Asked how she is feeling, Williams just shook her head.
"She's great," Reichardt jumped in as she gave her friend a hug.
Editing by Claudia Parsons and Mohammad Zargham