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LGM Film Club, Part 264: First Cow

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I watched Kelly Reichardt’s 2020 film First Cow the other day. It was another excellent, quiet meditation that is her specialty. It’s really a very simple film. It’s an 1820s Oregon fur trading fort. A Chinese guy and a white cook who has wandered out there as part of a fur trapping team become friends. They take advantage of the fort’s factor, who can’t believe anyone would steal from him, to milk his cow and make baked goods out of it that bring them a lot of money and a lot of danger.

What this simple story really is though is a story of friendship. In that, it’s quite beautiful. Yes, it’s a bit of a fantasy. It’s not that it would be in fact be impossible for a white guy and a Chinese guy to be friends in the 1820s Oregon. This was after all before the arrival of many whites who would bring anti-Chinese politics to the nation. But it’s not as if no one would have commented on this either. The nation was plenty racist in the 1820s for that. Well, whatever, movies are fantasies after all.

One of the things I love about Reichardt is that she is such an Oregon director. I’ve seen all her films since Old Joy except for Certain Women and each of them take on a different aspect of the Oregon experience. Old Joy delves into the hippie culture of the region and how it impacts a friendship when one moves on. Wendy and Lucy is a great look at the drifter kids of the area. Meek’s Cutoff does a great job at getting at both the disastrous westward wagon drives and the gender roles that so limited women’s agency at the time. Night Moves is a really underrated film that explores the dynamics of so-called ecoterrorism. And now we have this film, a return to the early 19th century. This is a fascinating director, even if some don’t like the slow ways her stories unfold. I do like that, as the character studies make it all pay off. I don’t know why Certain Women takes place in Montana instead of Oregon, but whatever, it’s close enough.

Anyway, interesting film. You should watch it.

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