first cow trailer

Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow opens with a quote from Romantic poet William Blake: “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” In Blake’s estimation, these are the active creations of each species – as well as their homes and resting places. Humans take refuge in each other through the creation of social connection and affinity. It is natural.

How fitting that Reichardt should choose to amplify this worldview in her latest film given how her films argue that we are communal, collective creatures at heart – and much of our misery stems from the presumption that we can survive without the support of others. Her Oregon-set oeuvre has largely made this case by depicting the intimate tragedies of people who experience the pitfalls of a society that places a premium on self-sufficiency. First Cow, on the other hand, points toward a positive alternative where people can succeed not at the expense of others but in cooperation with them. Her statement is all the more potent given the genre conventions in which the film largely operates: the Western.

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First Cow Review

(This review originally ran during our coverage of the New York Film Festival last year. First Cow is now available on VOD.)

Her films might not blare “it’s the economy, stupid,” but make no bones about it – Kelly Reichardt’s cinema frequently obsesses over how the mechanics of commercial arrangements affect interpersonal relationships. Though micro in scale, her films are macro in mindset. Her latest look at the subject, First Cow, goes all the way back to the fledgling days of American capitalism. The film finds an effective and ultimately touching contrast between the friendships born of enterprising businessmen and the ruthlessness of competing with entrenched elites.

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