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CANNES 2015 Directors’ Fortnight

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Les Cowboys: A quest for a missing girl

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- CANNES 2015: A promising directorial debut for screenwriter Thomas Bidegain with an ambitious film about a family looking for their child who has been inspired by jihad

Les Cowboys: A quest for a missing girl

A source of great curiosity at Directors’ Fortnight of the 68th Cannes Film Festival was the world premiere of Cowboys [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
by Thomas Bidegain. It has to be said that the move behind the camera of this experienced screenwriter (the writer among others of A Prophet [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Jacques Audiard
interview: Jacques Audiard and Tahar R…
film profile
]
, Rust & Bone [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Jacques Audiard
interview: Jacques Audiard
film profile
]
, Dheepan
 [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
Q&A: Jacques Audiard
film profile
]
, Saint Laurent [+see also:
film review
trailer
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Q&A: Bertrand Bonello
film profile
]
, etc.) and the subject of his first feature film as director (the more than a decade-long search by a father and a brother for a teenager who disappears into the jihadist circle of influence), a very unusual topic for young French cinema, stirred the imagination. It’s on this journey, long in both a temporal and geographical sense (starting in 1994 in the east of France and ending in 2005 in Pakistan, passing via Antwerp), which winds down many roads, that the story (written by the director with Noé Debré) takes the audience, on an unconventional quest (which is not led by professionals, but by the members of an everyday French family) about terrorism and the psychological portrait of individuals carried by the despair of paternal and fraternal love when faced with an inexplicable and elusive absence. 

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It’s 1994 and Alain and his family (the former played by outstanding Belgian actor François Damiens) is spending the day at a meeting of country music fans when his eldest, Kelly, a 16 year-old teenager, disappears into thin air. Discovering, among other lies, that she had a boyfriend, a boy he didn’t know called Ahmed who has also gone missing, Alain, extremely worried, reports the disappearance to the local police, who don’t bat an eyelid, to his outrage. Then the discovery of notebooks containing texts in Arabic that turn out to be jihadist propaganda opens up an abyss into which the entire family falls for long years on end. A member of the secret service (who introduces himself saying he works for the regional authorities…) comes to take a statement about the disappearance, but does not answer the questions asked by Alain, who starts his own enquiry when a letter arrives from Kelly posted from Charleville-Mézières (in which the young girl asks them not to come looking for her). Tirelessly taking to the road, a prisoner of his own obsession, exhausting his financial resources and gradually cutting himself off from any form of social life, Alain spends years following different leads, which take him to troubled areas and a number of different countries (Denmark, Yemen, Belgium), flanked by his son Kid (Finnegan Oldfield) who then takes up the torch alone, travelling all the way to Pakistan where things come to a head… 

A scientific use of ellipses and rhythm (with a number of impressive shots), sophisticated photography, effective suspense devices and a very clever use of historical background (punctuated by the attacks of 11 September and those in Madrid and London; the disconcerted American agent played by John C. Reilly): Thomas Bidegain demonstrates that he has already mastered the codes of genre cinema. He also succeeds in painting a magnificent portrait of a father who persists in an endlessly disheartening quest, losing himself in social contexts completely unknown to him, taking his son with him. Although the film loses Damien’s charisma when his character hands over the reins to his son and the penultimate part of the film set in the Middle East is a tad over-scripted, Les Cowboys marks the start of a career as director for this filmmaker that should be followed closely in years to come, and will without a doubt charm a number of international distributors. 

Staged by Les Productions du Trésor (also in competition at Cannes with Mon roi [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
by Maïwenn) Les Cowboys was co-produced notably by Belgian production company Les Films du Fleuve and Lunanime. It will be released in France on 25 November by Pathé, which will also handle international sales.

(Translated from French)

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