First Cow

First Cow ★★★★½

Reichardt returns to the wilds of the Oregon Trail in this quietly stunning, fable-esque tale about the origin of the American Dream. Kind-hearted, lovingly paced, and meekly observed, the story takes its sweet, sweet time setting in motion a mystery of two skeletons, lying side by side, holding hands, forging an unusual friendship they shared during mortality. Of special note is the fact that "Wendy and Lucy" are the ones who dig up these ancient bones, who immediately give the story a whimsical, intertextual framing. 

From this haunted opening we time-travel back to an era when the skeletons were flesh-and-blood pioneers, foraging their way through untamed America with nothing but the currency of cow's milk to keep them afloat. The cow, as it turns out, belongs to upper-crust aristocracy, whereas these men, belonging to lower-crust traders and vagrants, scour night after night to steal its milk so they can sell "oily cakes" to weary, passing travelers.

As supply and demand increases for their delicious, homebred recipe, an origin story of capitalism's greed, desperation and insatiable hunger is kindled. Reichardt's tantalizing commentary is visualized in such gentle, poetic, delicious terms. You can smell and taste these ingredients. They reek of business and fraud mixed together with a dash of hope and a pinch of trickery.

It’s the kind of money-making scheme seeded in the soil of the American enterprise, the poor thieving from the rich, and the dishonesty that’s needed to survive in a wild and unforgiving world too inchoate to realize the immoral depths of where America will be 200 years later. 

This is a beautiful and profoundly subtle film about the universal struggle to make ends meets, find success, and rummage the earth for its soiled goods while forming unlikely friendships along the way. It may be too lean and stripped back for some audiences, but I found myself entranced from start to finish, totally enrapt by its enveloping sense of place and the specificity of its environment. Reichardt has a unique perspective on the American frontier, I often find myself just lyrically sinking into all their exquisite details. FIRST COW is yet another A+ from the auteur.

Watched at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival

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