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Les Cowboys

on Oct 7, 2016

Les Cowboys is the directorial debut of acclaimed French screenwriter Thomas Bidegain, best known in recent years for his collaborations with French director Jacques Audiard. (He has co-scripted all of Audiard’s films following The Beat My Heart Skipped.) In an age when the value of the cinematic medium is being challenged, Bidegain has made a haunting and bold first feature that is both intimate as well as epic in scope. It’s a film steeped in the history of cinema, drawing both visual and narrative inspiration from classic American westerns. At the same time, Les Cowboys is no escapist work, nor is its political allegory achieved through indirect metaphor. While classic films by John Ford and Howard Hawks inspired Les Cowboys, the storyline is ripped from the headlines.

For an American audience, Les Cowboys has a familiar introduction as a family strolls through a country and western fair. But when the singer on stage starts singing, something is off. As his accent reveals, we’re not in the States but in France, where French cowboys and cowgirls dress up, ride horses and do the two-step at local carnivals. Alain (Francois Damiens) is one of these men, and one day, at the fair, his teenage daughter Kelly disappears. Soon he discovers that she’s had a secret Muslim boyfriend and, that rather than been kidnapped, she’s run away and converted to Islam.

Like George C. Scott’s father in Hardcore, Alain violently ventures into a world he knows little about — not just to Syria and Afghanistan but to the Muslim community living, at times invisibly, within European borders. To say more is to ruin the film’s twists. (Scott Macaulay)

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