directed by Thomas Bidegain
starring Francois Damiens, Finnegan Oldfield, John C. Reily
Being that this quiet-beauty is the directional debut for screenwriter Thomas Bidegain (A Prophet, Rust and Bone), and being that the brutal A Prophet is a time-capsule favorite of mine, I could not have been more excited for this film. And for what seems like a rare bit in a majorly disappointing film year thus far, I’m pleased to say that Les Cowboys does not disappoint. In making a French-take on John Ford’s 1936 western classic The Searchers, Bidegain bases his modern-day western in the landscapes of France and India. And instead of blasting revolvers with the typical summer-movie action, Bidegain does his striking debut proud by taking his sweet time when telling his story. But no way will you not be hooked when watching, and even long after.
His tale, an original idea written with screenwriting-partner Laurent Abitbol, opens in 1995 at a cowboy-style carnival in the French country-side, where a father named Alain (Francois Damiens) is shown enjoying the day with his family, followed by singing a country-song to a massive crowd, where everybody dresses in western-style attire. You can tell right away that Alain wishes he was something that he definitely is not. And then, his 16-year-old daughter Kelly (Iliana Zabeth) goes missing, seemingly out of thin air. The family establishes quickly that she probably ran off with her new jihadist boyfriend Ahmed (Mounir Marghoum). A note is later found that Kelly has left, basically stating that she left on her own free-will, and for her father to not come after her. Yeah, like that’s happening. Alain gets in over his head and takes vengeance to the cops, along with Ahmed’s Muslim family.
And with that, the search goes on for years and years, the film eventually switching focus to Kelly’s younger brother George (Finnegan Oldfield), also known as “The Kid”, who eventually continues on the search for her weeks after 9/11 happens, eventually with the help of an American mercenary (John C. Reilly, continuing his random appearances in strange foreing-films). Looking for her in Afghanistan, The Kid soon suspects his sister might have made a full conversion into a terrorist organization.
The rest of the film is for you to see and witness. Obviously the mystery helps keeping you involved. But it’s the harder truths and questions that Bidegain’s vision doesn’t shy away from, that makes this such a memorable debut. Should Alain rescue or kill his daughter for converting to a group that destroys the very ideals that she was raised on? One thing’s for sure – that question alone could keep you up nights. Same for the movie.