This Friday, July 9, MUBI premieres First cow, Kelly Reichardt’s film that, in addition to being considered among the 10 best of the year by the National Board of Review, was nominated for the Spirit Awards for best film, direction and supporting actor (Orion Lee), where he lost the first two categories at the hands of another woman’s film, Nomadland, from Chloé zhao.
Reichardt often works with Michelle Williams (as in Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff or Certain women), but it was not the case of First cow, whose cast is predominantly male.
First cow it may look like a western, but with other ambitions. A cook traveling West joins a group of fur hunters in Oregon. When you meet a Chinese immigrant, they will collaborate on a successful, profitable business, until it all falls apart.
Orion Lee (who was a nominee for the Independent Spirit Awards) and John Magaro, the leads. Photo MUBI
In addition to Orion Lee and John Magaro, the main duo, Toby Jones (The Hunger Games, voiced Doby in the movies of Harry Potter) Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) and Rene Auberjonois (Frasier, Practitioners).
We had the chat with Reichardt via Zoom, she at her home in Oregon, on the West Coast of the United States, where she usually locates the actions of her feature films.
Your time at the BAFICI
-You were in Buenos Aires in an edition of BAFICI, what are the best memories of your visit?
-A crazy little bird that I saw, sitting at the bar at lunchtime, and I remember some old men making me dance with them, which was quite funny and sweet. That was beautiful. That was great. The audience was very nice.
Toby Jones, one of the familiar faces on “Firts Cow.” Photo MUBI
-Do you still work six months at Bard College in New York to dedicate yourself to film for the other six months of the year, or has that already happened?
-No, no, I’m still. Well this year it was just because of Zoom, but yeah, I’m still going to New York to teach one semester a year.
The cow in question. Photo MUBI
-Another myth indicates that your dog Lucy appears in your movies so you don’t have to leave her home alone.
-Uh, she’s gone. He was quite old when he died. Yes, there is no more Lucy.
-So in the first 10 minutes of “First Cow”, with that girl and a dog, it’s not Lucy.
-Not. I forget the name of the dog. The dog was there for a day, but working with that dog was much, much more difficult.
John Magaro, the protagonist, is working with Reichardt again on his new film, with Michelle Williams. Photo MUBI
-In the first 10 minutes of the film there is no dialogue, except for the girl who is with the dog. Why did you choose this type of approach to the public?
-Well, there is no need to talk there.
-But you worked a lot on the soundtrack. There are many sounds in the foreground.
-The sound of the barge in the water and the birds in the wind, a nearby train, as we hear many times, like a traffic, even at a distance. Yes, there are a lot of sounds, but there is no dialogue for a while, until we get to the next kind of chapter in the movie. And there, yes, you need the dialogue.
Cookie manages to make a meal that is desired by everyone. Until … Photo MUBI
-I must tell you that the image of the freighter and that scene with which you chose to open the film is the best I saw.
-Oh thanks. Yes, the ship. They happen all the time if you stand with your camera there …
“First Cow” is shot in an unusual format. And the director explained the reason for that choice. Photo MUBI
-It is common for you to choose different film formats, such as 16 mm. Why did you use this framing format, 4: 3? Do you feel freer?
-I was filming in the high forest and that format allowed me to make more sense. I think all the lines in the film are kind of vertical lines, the inside of the hutch, the way the branches of the wood go, the forest. That just seemed to make more sense in using a more intimate setting for this, for this story. Yes. I preferred it.
Toby Jones tastes the delicacy. And he does not imagine that the cook does it with something that belongs to him. Photo MUBI
-Why do you dedicate the film to Peter Hutton, an essential figure in American documentary and experimental cinema?
-Well, the first shot you mentioned is a tribute to Peter, the barge going down the river. Peter was a colleague of mine where I teach for 10 years and a friend, and yes, he is a filmmaker and an important person to me. And he passed away just before I started working on the movie, so he was on my mind when I was filming.
Todd Haynes’s friend
Todd Haynes is now in Cannes, presenting the documentary “The Velvet Underground”. AFP photo
-Do you have friends in the world of cinema? I mean people to go to, show them a script, ask for advice.
-Yes, I have friends in the cinema, I am very close to Todd Haynes, and an old friend who makes very different films, Larry Fessenden (Wendigo), kind of friends I’ve been sharing scripts with for decades. And I read their scripts and they read my scripts and share notes and watch cuts from the movies. And I trust that. I mean, Peter Hutton wasn’t so much of a script reader, but he would look at it. I was looking at cuts from the movie, which was great.
-I was surprised not to see Todd Haynes as the producer of “First Cow”, when he was a regular producer of your films.
-He was making a movie at the same time as me. But I usually drag it in everything! So I wasn’t really living in Cincinnati and I was living in Portland. So we missed each other at the time.
Michelle Williams often works on Kelly Reichardt movies. Photo Clarín Archive
-Jonathan Raymond is your regular screenwriter. Was he the one who suggested you take his novel to the movies, or was it your idea?
-It’s hard to see how it came about, we’ve been talking about this for a long time. The last film I made before this one, I worked with a different author. And so this was more like we had a little break space, he was doing some other things, and I worked with Maile Meloy (he refers to Certain Women), but we had talked about trying to adapt his work. But we just didn’t know how to do it, so then, as we had done many times before, we were actually working on another movie in Europe, and we talked about doing it. So I was already in this early 1800s mode and then I said let’s get out of the drawer First cow again, and we started brainstorming about it.
A cinema of climates
-Your cinema has a lot to do with the weather. How much do you change when you shoot the script that you take to the set?
-Oh, that got me on set. Well, there is a lot of planning, planning, planning. And then when I get to set, we have our shot list and everything, and I try to stay open to something that maybe I haven’t thought of before. Yes, my actors often tell me “don’t make us go over things so many times and so many times.” It is so true.
Reichardt also spoke of the diversity of voices in today’s cinema. Photo MUBI
-You have been directing for quite some time, what do you think of the diversity of voices that is emerging now?
-It’s nice that we have some diversity. It’s great. But we’ll see.
-Scott Rudin is producer of “First Cow”. What is your opinion regarding the situations he is facing? Were you aware of the sexual harassment rumors?
(A voice leaks into the conversation: “Pablo, could we focus on the film today?” “But I must ask, he is the producer of the film.” No answer.
The director tells a story of male friendship. Photo MUBI
-If you had to choose between making movies or teaching movies, what would you prefer?
-I like them both, why do I have to choose …? Making a movie takes a lot of time, a lot of concentration and a lot of effort. And it takes a long time. I really like going to teach after having made a movie. It’s very nice that kind of work to do. I’m not going to make a living making my movie, so I wouldn’t want to go shoot a commercial or something like that, I’d rather go see my colleagues and teach and watch movies and see what young people want to do with their cameras. And I don’t know, I really like them both. I don’t want to choose.
-What can you say about “Showing Up”, where will you work with Michelle Williams again?
-I can’t tell you anything, I’m sorry. It is terrible to talk about a movie before starting to shoot it. My team arrives on Sunday night. I’m in pre-production thereafter. It’s very scary.