First Cow

Kelly Reichardt summons glorious earthy poetry from the raw materials of early American life.

"You can almost taste the dirt in your mouth and smell the smoke on the wind when losing yourself in this quietly powerful nineteenth-century-set frontier tale from director and co-writer Kelly Reichardt (working with Jon Raymond to adapt his own novel ‘The Half-Life’). It’s a painterly, spare and fitfully witty story of survival and companionship set in the 1820s in The Oregon Territory – the precursor to the US state where indie filmmaker Reichardt has made several earthy films, including ‘Wendy and Lucy’. The film is a beguiling window into a distant world.

"Reichardt keeps her focus tight: she’s most interested in the emerging friendship between Cookie (John Magaro), a sweet American travelling as a helper with hard-nosed fur trappers, and King-Lu (Orion Lee), a man from northern China who, intriguingly, has found himself on the run in the wooded wilds of the Pacific Northwest. They’re the ultimate odd couple. Cookie and King-Lu become friends, bunk up together in a cabin near a muddy trading post and stumble into a scam which involves them secretly milking the region’s only cow at night. By day they use the same milk to make a small fortune selling biscuits and cakes. Everything in ‘First Cow’ feels like a beginning (although it’s not, of course, for the Indigenous Peoples whose presence and language Reichardt honours along the way).

"It’s hard not to view ‘First Cow’ as a poetic blueprint for modern America: this wild corner of the Pacific Northwest is a place where you can hear plummy British voices alongside rough Scottish and American accents, hear a Chinese immigrant complain of being chased by Russians and see early capitalism in action. Along the way, Reichardt gives us a friendship that endures way beyond earthly lives. You come out blinking into the present, with these kinds of ghosts of the past lingering long in the mind." - Time Out

"We might go into a Kelly Reichardt movie thinking we'll be told a story, but we emerge with our consciousness subtly and radically altered." - Washington Post


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