First Cow

First Cow ★★★★


"Five minutes before the end of First Cow," I tweeted outside the screening room, "I suddenly thought omg I know exactly how this film should end and Reichardt is absolutely someone who would do that (basically not show something that doesn’t need showing). And indeed she did." Someone then pointed out to me that I'd ended my TIFF '11 drive-by for Meek's Cutoff almost exactly the same way: "When the final line of dialogue was spoken—at once hugely significant and utterly mundane—I instantly thought, 'That's it. She should just end the movie right here.' About 30 seconds later I came all over all giddy. She's actually going to, isn't she? And she did." The repetition embarrasses me a little, but it's just so damn gratifying when a director like Reichardt trusts me to draw simple inferences, is subtle without being needlessly obscure. Not that the capitalist mini-parable here demands much in the way of interpretation, as the components are all quite clear-cut: one pure artisan, one mercantile mastermind, supply and demand, market share, exploiting the exploiter, etc. Even the enterprise's fate ultimately pivots not on the anticipated reckoning re: cutting corners, but on a calculated business decision that spectacularly backfires well after Cookie and King Lu forget that they even made it. (Openly court influencers at your peril.) Were that all First Cow had to offer, I'd likely feel more admiration than ardor...but it's also a touching portrait of friendship between two social outcasts, as well as another fascinating deep dive into the distant American past. And Reichardt's up to something interesting with Cookie, who's by no means effeminate but constantly and voluntarily does what's traditionally perceived as woman's work; his impulse to sweep and beautify King Lu's little shack, within seconds of entering it for the first time, is as wonderfully disorienting a moment as I've seen onscreen in some time. Wasn't able to discern a cogent connection between that offbeat gender dynamic and the couple's small-business venture, at least on first viewing, but it's something I'll be thinking about when I inevitably, eagerly watch this again later in the year. More then, perhaps.

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