Film

French Western ‘Les Cowboys’ Updates ‘The Searchers’ Itself — And Pulls It Off

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Past is prologue, meaning that the directorial debuts of acclaimed screenwriters should be regarded warily — not everyone makes the transition as gracefully as Charlie Kaufman.

In the case of Thomas Bidegain, who wrote A Prophet and Rust and Bone for Jacques Audiard, the result is a reimagining of The Searchers that transposes the story to the France of today, where a teenage girl has absconded with the Muslim (and potentially radicalized) boyfriend her parents didn’t know existed. Les Cowboys opens with a Gallic hoedown in which the girl’s father (François Damiens), a Stetson-wearing Frenchman, pulls off a perfect country-western twang onstage before realizing he doesn’t know where his sixteen-year-old daughter has gone.

The manner of her departure complicates her parents’ very idea of the girl, not least because her dad is given to calling Muslims “ragheads” — this incident brings out his true colors, which apparently do run. Bidegain alters that dynamic bit by bit before upturning it entirely with a beautifully shot, out-of-nowhere set piece halfway through that shifts the focus from one character (and continent) to another; in the mère of unexpected appearances, John C. Reilly then shows up for a hot minute as a maybe-helpful fellow searcher.

The strange, ever-changing result is, at times, as original as loose remakes come, with Bidegain using his hallowed source material as a springboard for something rare: a “writer’s movie” that loses nothing in the jump from script to screen.

Les Cowboys

Directed by Thomas Bidegain

Cohen Media Group

Opens June 24, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Landmark Sunshine

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 22, 2016

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