Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
NYFF ’15: Les Cowboys
“Love Jihad” or “Romeo Jihad” phenomenon, in which young Muslim men seduce
non-Muslim women and teens, enticing them into marriage and conversion,
culminating in emotional abandonment and in some cases outright exploitation,
has been hotly debated in India, but there are precedents in the West, as well.
Betty Mahmoody’s ordeal documented in Not
Without My Daughter could be considered an early example. Such is also the
case when Alain’s daughter elopes with a budding jihadist, irrevocably
fracturing his French family in Thomas Bidegain’s Les Cowboys (trailer
which screens as a Main Slate selection of the 53rd New York Film Festival.
his wife Nicole, sixteen year-old daughter Kelly, and young son “Kid” are
French western aficionados, who enjoy kicking up their heels and singing cowboy
songs at hoedowns. However, this 1994 round-up will be their last as a family.
Much to their shock, Kelly has planned to elope with her secret boyfriend,
Ahmed, the radicalized son of assimilated parents. With the help of his
Islamist network, they cover their tracks quite thoroughly.
years, Alain tirelessly searches for them, dragging the obedient Kid along to
watch his back. Riffing on John Ford’s The
Searchers and Paul Schrader’s Hardcore,
Bidegain and co-screenwriter Noé Debré will take Alain into dangerous “No-Go
Zones,” before the media was denying their existence. Ultimately, the relentless
quest will eventually destroy Alain.
Kid will duly pick up his standard, but he will try to be smarter about it. Nevertheless,
Kelly’s reported proximity to radical Islamist circles greatly alarms him
following the World Trade Center bombings and the London 7/7 attacks.
Eventually, he will join an NGO relief organization active in the Middle East,
hoping to glean information regarding her whereabouts. A mysterious American
ransom-fixer might be able to help, but he demands the Kid ride shotgun on his
latest dodgy mission first.
Les Cowboys looks like it
might be the sort of film the director lost control of, in a good way. Like
John Wayne in The Searchers, Alain is
intended to be a portrait of corrosive obsession, but François Damiens (playing
radically against his lumpy comedic type) humanizes him too effectively.
Likewise, everything we learn about Kelly’s subsequent life suggests it is one
of profound misery and regret. Sure, there is some kneejerk “Islamophobia”
directed at Shahzana, one of Ahmed’s subsequent wives, forced by circumstance
to accept sanctuary with the Kid in France. Yet the scene is question comes
across as a clichéd and obligatory tack-on. However, their evolving
relationship is arguably rather bold and touching, in a haram kind of way.
who know Damiens from frothier films like Heartbreaker
or Delicacy may not recognize him
as the grizzled Alain, but his performance deserves to be an award-winning
career turning point. Finnegan Oldfield’s performance as the older Kid is also
quite accomplished, depicting the maturation process with rarely seen
complexity and sensitivity. Yet, the chemistry he develops with the arresting
Ellora Torchia’s Shahzana is the film’s real knockout punch. As an additional
bonus, John C. Reilly hams it up just enough, but not too much as the American
crafted Les Cowboys with unusual
subtly. Details like when and where Kelly and Shahzana wear bandanas and
headscarves have real significance. It is an uncompromising family tragedy, but
it still manages to be deeply satisfying. There are several scenes that truly
stay with you. Surprisingly highly recommended, Les Cowboys screens tonight (10/1) at Alice Tully Hall and tomorrow
(10/2) at the Gilman Theater, as part of this year’s NYFF.
Labels: French Cinema, NYFF '15