Monday, July 11, 2016

Les Cowboys

Les Cowboys
seen @ Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, New York NY

Les Cowboys was a movie Vija had suggested for our movie group and I went to see it only because I hadn't seen her in a few months. I had nominated a different movie on our Facebook page, but apparently something very bad happens to a dog in it, which didn't go over well with the animal lovers in our little group, so Vija recommended this instead. All I knew about it came from a single review I had read which seemed positive, but with reservations. Didn't matter, though. I had taken the Sunday off from my writing group and needed something to do, and seeing a movie, any movie, with Vija certainly appealed to me. So I went.

There was just one problem: I could barely see because gremlins stole my glasses. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) When I had agreed to see the movie, I had kind of forgotten about this unexpected complication. By the time you read this, I'll have a new pair, which in truth, I've needed for months at least, but I had to spend a little over a week going through the world without them. Why so long? The holiday weekend, of course. It slowed down the manufacture of my new pair after I went to the neighborhood eyewear boutique for an eye exam.

I've worn glasses most of my life. Wearing them has become second nature to me, to the point that feeling my face without them when I normally expect to wear them feels wrong. Enduring a week-plus of squinting at signs, holding books up closer to my face, and guessing at the layouts of unfamiliar places made me realize how much I take them for granted. This one dude in my writing group told me how he got laser-corrective surgery done on his eyes, which he said were pretty bad. I said I'd be too scared to have that done to my eyes, even though it's a fairly common practice by now. I dunno. Maybe it's worth considering before I get too old.

Despite the change of movie, most people couldn't make it, so it was just me and Vija and Franz. I had to talk them into sitting in the front of the theater. I think we were in the fourth row, but the screen was set far enough back that we weren't looking up into the actors' nostrils. I had feared I might need assistance from Vija in interpreting the occasional subtitle (and so had she!), but they were big enough that I could read them, and as a plus, a number of scenes were done in English.

Les Cowboys, a French movie, was a modern riff (though not a remake) on The Searchers: dude's teen daughter appears to have been abducted by her boyfriend, but after a few days, she sends a note saying she chose to elope with him and to not bother coming after her. Dad is not convinced, however, so he and his son set off in pursuit. Muslims are substituted here for Indians. The timeline for the story begins before 9-11 and stretches past, hitting a few other notable events along the way, including the train bombings in both Madrid, in 2004, and London, in 2005. Plus, John C. Reilly!

Dad, his family, and their friends, are really into American Western culture; they have square dances and sing country songs and wear cowboy hats, hence the film's title. It's a bit odd to hear a song like "The Tennessee Waltz" sung with a French accent. I have no idea how widespread this sort of thing is in France; you just have to accept this for the sake of the story, although it doesn't play much of a factor at all. I think it's only there to make the Searchers comparisons more overt. There are also scenes of people riding the plains of Afghanistan on horseback which kinda look like they were cribbed from a Western.

Long story short, Vija and I liked the film and Franz didn't. He seemed to think the depiction of European Muslims was off - a Colombian, he spent some time in Paris before he met Vija, so I bow to his superior knowledge in this - but he also nitpicked at the writing and acting, which didn't seem anywhere near as bad as he claimed.

See, the problem with talking about movies with Franz is, while he's basically a good guy at heart, he's also a bit eccentric, to the point where he can come across as excessively dogmatic when expressing his opinions. I know because I've tried debating him on movies in the past and ended up frustrated at his intransigence. During the movie, he kept whining to Vija about this and that scene he didn't like, and she kept shushing him - not the first time this has happened. It reached the point where I had to tell him to shut up. Fortunately, the theater was only about half-full, so he didn't embarrass us, at least.

Neither of them has seen The Searchers, so I had to describe it to them in the context of Les Cowboys. The French film takes a sudden and dramatic second-act twist which deviates sharply from the American film, but parallels still exist. Like John Wayne's Ethan Edwards, the father in Les Cowboys, Alain, has a bias against the culture connected to the alleged kidnapping, and the fear that the Natalie Wood surrogate, the daughter Kelly, has assimilated into that culture, is present. The Jeffrey Hunter surrogate, the son Georges, eventually comes to see things differently than his father over time.

Both films are concerned with how whites look upon "the other" in extreme situations. Searchers exposes the prejudice that lies underneath the mythology of the American West, the same mythology that the family of Les Cowboys celebrates, despite its origins in another country. There can be no reconciliation in Wayne's heart over what happens to Wood; he wants to kill her because of it, and would have if Hunter hadn't interfered. In the end, Wayne is left alone, on the outside, as Wood is reunited with her family. Les Cowboys ends on a note of acceptance, despite the anti-Muslim sentiment witnessed to that point. It's a message we could use now more than ever.

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