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.
Directed by Thomas Bidegain
Cohen Media Group
Opens June 24, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Landmark Sunshine