One man’s tragi-comic journey
by Matthieu Reynaert
- A classic comic film in three parts, Cowboy is more unconventional in its exploration of the central protagonist’s tormented soul
Daniel Piron (played by Benoît Poelvoorde) is a TV journalist fed up with being reduced to presenting Airbag, a television primer on road safety whose filming is cause for many memorable comic scenes – enjoyed by the viewers at least! Piron, a former left-wing militant who has stagnated career-wise, decides to make a documentary. The subject matter of his documentary is based on a real-life event, Michel Strée’s hostage-taking of a school bus in 1980. He plans to reunite the hostage-taker, rechristened Sacchi (Gilbert Melki), with his victims, almost thirty years after the event. But Piron is plagued by setbacks. Not only has Sacchi become a gigolo and his producer (Bouli Lanners) has landed him with an incompetent cameraman (François Damiens), but what’s more, he discovers that he’s not cut out for the project in hand. Everything falls apart and Piron is tempted to manipulate the truth in order to achieve his ends.
Cowboy [+see also:
interview: Benoît Mariage
film profile] explores some of the issues that have motivated Benoît Mariage as a documentary filmmaker (for instance in "Striptease"). This meta-filmic dimension shouldn’t deter those who do not belong to the “film coterie”, because first and foremost this is a story about one man’s personal journey. As viewers, we also rediscover Mariage’s boundless admiration for "humble people" and his love of the melancholy beauty of everyday life. Indeed, the director is blessed with a vision and perceptiveness that Piron would have a hard time emulating.
At first, Piron believes himself to be a militant still, but he soon reveals his contempt for the people he films. And this is the second main theme of the film. It is certainly not an overstatement to describe the film as a left-wing film. However, Mariage effectively approaches these issues from a different angle, by engaging with the values of solidarity and tolerance, often confronting us with our own contradictions. For instance, while Poelvoorde and Lanners are engaged in a heated discussion, Poelvoorde refuses to give any change to the boy who washes his car windows at the crossroads. The film’s political message is enlightened and a touch disillusioned. The superb final scene, with the soundtrack "Non, non, rien n’a changé" (“No, no, nothing has changed”) by the Poppies playing in the background, is guaranteed to bring a tear to the eyes of all those who once believed, or still believe, the world can change.
Mariage has an unrivalled talent, as seen in The Carriers Are Waiting, for constructing frames of great formal beauty and highly poetic images, while his camera mercilessly homes in on the skin imperfections and faces of the protagonists. The film succeeds in raising many a laugh whilst eliciting heartfelt and genuine emotion at all times. To strike this delicate balance, Mariage can rely upon the acting talents of Poelvoorde, who gives his finest performance to date (more complex than his performance in In His Hands [+see also:
film profile]) and reminds us what a good actor he is. Even François Damiens (alias Didier l’Embrouille), reveals the depth of his talent over the course of the film in a role that initially seems caricatured. The film also stars Julie Depardieu, who appears in a few scenes alongside Poelvoorde, reminiscent of the scenes the two actors shared in Podium.