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Review of ‘First Cow’ for lovers of the marginal western and against the tide

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In the Spanish magazine FOTOGRAMAS, Sergy Sanchez published his review for the movie “First Cow”, which the magazine has now categorized as the number one film for 2021. (Original review in Spanish here)

Director: Kelly Reichardt Cast: Alia Shawkat, John Magaro, Dylan Smith, Orion Lee, Ryan Findley, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner Original title: First Cow Country: United States Year: 2019 Release date: 21-5-2021 Genre: Drama Script: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt Photography: Christopher Blauvelt Synopsis: It tells the story of a cook (John Magaro) hired by an expedition of fur trappers in the state of Oregon in the 1820s. It is also the story of a mysterious Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) on the run from pursuing men, and the growing friendship between the two in hostile territory.

The best: that the re-reading of the genre is founded on the beautiful X-ray of a male friendship.

The worst: that Reichardt had to wait so long to release it in Spain.

What happened to the corpses of the Pompeian lovers in I’ll Love You Forever, who awakened an epiphanic moment in a marriage in crisis, on the verge of breaking up? Who were these corpses? Did they belong to a timeless time, common to all civilisations?

At least in America, Kelly Reichardt tells us in the beautiful First Cow, they represented the possibility of love, of friendship, of solidarity, in the face of the blood that served as fertiliser for the promised land. Against the blood, the milk of a cow, the first one, the one that looks at the affection with which it is milked with the objective and tender eye of the donkey in Randomly, Balthazar.

There are, then, two points of view in First Cow: that of a Rossellini who would have made exactly this western, which portrays, through the historicity of the everyday, how two men support and love each other, building a small utopia; and that of a Bresson who, from the moral austerity of the animal that allows itself to be loved or hated, which is the symbol of the collaborative economy or neoliberal capitalism, sees how this utopia fails.

First Cow is, in a way, the prequel to two of Reichardt’s best films, to date inexplicably unreleased in Spanish cinemas, Old Joy and Meek’s Cutoff. From the former, he rescues one of the most moving, synthetic and lyrical portraits of male friendship that this critic remembers.

From the second, he gathers the foundational re-reading of a genre that serves to reinterpret the idiosyncrasy of a country that is still engaged, in a certain way, in the reconquest of the landscape through the gaze and the colonisation of space through strength and the will to belong.

The tension between these two vibrations, which run through the relationship between a sensitive cook and a Chinese man fleeing the racism of the pioneers, gives the film a universal and delicate singularity, which expands through an almost pantheistic ode to nature as a refuge for dissidence.

The result is a beautiful and empathetic experience, explaining from the heart the joy archaeologists must feel when they find two skeletons embracing.

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