First Cow

First Cow ★★★½

Film #10 among my 52 Films by Women 2022

Director Kelly Reichardt once again joins author Jonathan Raymond and adapts his novel "The Half Life" into a film about the rugged Pacific Northwest. This time, a woman foraging in the Oregon woods discovers a pair of skeletons buried side by side, which sets off a tale, imagined or real, of pioneers in the 1820s.

While gathering mushrooms, Cookie (John Magaro), a lowly meal-maker for a trio of trappers, encounters a half naked Chinaman, King Lu (Orion Lee), who is fleeing for his life from a gang of Russian prospectors. The two loners form a bond and start making delicious oily cakes in a mining camp. Word of their confection reaches the region's most wealthy landowner, Chief Factor (Toby Jones) and his wife (Lily Gladstone), who take a liking to the cook's flavors and commission him to make a clafoutis for a visiting Sea Captain (Scott Shepherd). Little does anyone suspect, the rich taste of Cookie's delicately sweet, berry-infused dessert dish comes from milk stolen from the Chief Factor's own cow (Eve).

This is not the breakout film I hoped it would be, but another brick in the very solid wall of quiet, memorable Reichardt/Raymond stories. There is less drama here than in "Meek's Cutoff" (2010) or "Night Moves" (2013), but more of the character-focused depth seen in "Old Joy" (2006) and "Wendy and Lucy" (2008). Clearly this filmmaking duo is building a unique oeuvre of aloneness amid the majesty of nature, individuals on the fringe of society, who seem even more human for their detachment. I rate it three-point-five stars, very good. See it!

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