Nicole and Liza are the founders of the membership platform and app The Female Film Club. Their ethos is all about empowerment, encouragement and community, celebrating the contribution and achievements of women in the industry. Here, they turn their attention to the distinctive voice of American independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt and share their thoughts on her latest film, First Cow.
The new feature by Kelly Reichardt, adapted from the 2004 novel by Jonathan Raymond – also working here with the filmmaker on their fifth collaboration – transported us to a place we hadn’t been to before in cinema. If you’re familiar with Reichardt’s work, from Old Joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucy (2008) through to her last film Certain Women (2016), you’ll know it often shines a light on characters living on the margins of society. Her films present unique perspectives on lives all-too-rarely represented on the screen. In doing so they open our minds and have the power to change our perceptions – something that we love at FFC. Employing a minimalist approach that generates its own kind of realism, Reichardt is one of contemporary cinema’s essential filmmakers.
After a year of lockdown, with many of us confined to our cities and towns, there’s something moving in the way that Reichardt makes us connect with the natural world; her film emphasises the sound of birds, running water and the crackling of leaves in a forest. Let’s face it – when was the last time you listened to any of those without distraction? Reichardt revels in these details. It accounts for why it’s so easy to be won over by her films and unsurprising to learn that she says of her career, ‘Waking up and having a project to work on is one of life’s greatest pleasures.’ (On a similar note, working together and connecting with so many brilliant women both inside and out of the film world also brought us joy over the course of this strange year.)
First Cow tells the story of two different men, King Lu (Orion Lee) and Otis Figowitz (Johan Magaro), who come from very different backgrounds. They find friendship in the most unexpected place – albeit a very muddy one – and together attempt to turn their lives around. Reichardt’s directorial style is observational, refraining from any easy judgement, no matter the characters’ actions. They might carry out petty crimes but Reichardt’s eye is also attuned to their vulnerabilities. The men’s quest for success and the invention they achieve in edging towards it draws out depths to their characters. And both Lee and Magaro – in their first headlining roles – are impressive as Lu and Figowitz. This is no bromance or high-octane buddy movie, but it’s in the film’s quieter moments that we really connect with them. Their friendship is grounded in their reliance on each other to survive. Like any great partnership, it’s grounded in reliance rather than self-interest.
In contrast to Reichardt’s previous film Certain Women, which intersected the lives of four women (played by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart) from very different backgrounds, the focus of First Cow is on male characters. But never content to play it easy or safe, Reichardt blasts stereotypes in the way that she explores both masculinity and perceptions of femininity through the eyes of these men, questioning the characteristics we assign to gender roles.
Once again, Reichardt has given a voice to underrepresented lives and her film offers a refreshing take on the myth of the American Dream. By emphasising the mundane, the day-to-day tasks that populate our lives, she begs us to question the notion of a simple existence and what that might mean to us. As a result, her films transcend the era they’re produced in – their timelessness highlights the hardship and inequality that so many people have been through, are going through and will likely face in the future.
Reichardt’s next film Showing Up is set to star the incredible Michelle Williams as an artist on the verge of a career-changing exhibition. She previously worked with Reichardt on Certain Women and Wendy and Lucy. We are extremely excited to see what she does next!
First Cow is now showing at Curzon Bloomsbury and Curzon Soho
Nicole and Liza will be writing regularly for the Journal, spotlighting women filmmakers and voices within the independent film world.