As a director, Kelly Reichardt has been proving herself as one of the absolute best since the early 2000s. Since first appearing in the American independent scene with Old Joy in 2006 she has consistently delivered beautiful, confident films inspired by slow cinema and mumblecore. First Cow seems to be a step up in terms of budget, likely due to the success of Certain Women that saw Reichardt become far more recognised for her work overall.
The film is focused on Cookie (John Magaro) and King-Lu (Orion Lee) who become friends and start a small cooking business selling cakes and biscuits, with the only problem being that they have to steal their milk supply by night from a cow owned by an English aristocrat. First Cow is a little tricky to place, but it feels a lot like a film that would have been produced in the 1970s. The only clear comparison point would be Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Miller as both films are shot on particularly grainy celluloid that really adds to the distinctive look as well as focusing on capitalistic deals made in the early days of American life. First Cow is a ridiculously well produced film with Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography (known also for Mid 90s) constructing arguably some of the most beautiful shots in recent memory and the gentle score also adding a great deal to the atmosphere.
Simultaneously, its tone is both mythical and very tense in tone. Considering its stark opening scene, which sees a young woman and her dog stumble across two skeletons (slightly nudging at her 2008 film Wendy and Lucy ), what follows is often some of the most gentle filmmaking to go mainstream, with long scenes dedicated to simple pleasures such as extended shots of a boat passing by or biscuit batter frying over a pan. The dedication at the end of the film to experimental director Peter B. Hutton certainly makes sense, given that Hutton always focused on the mundane pace of everyday life in his documentaries. First Cow takes inspiration from his observant style and places it in a new direction, one that is interested in revisionist history of the first days after the discovery of America. The treatment of characterisation is beautiful and the story, though minimal, is always entertaining. But of course the selling point is Reichardt’s style and her approach, which takes the film far above what it would have likely achieved in the hands of any other director.
First Cow is set to release in U.K. cinemas on the 28th of May, distributed by A24, certificate 12. Watch the trailer below: