2019 | Drama | 121 minutes | English
A woman walking her dog in the woods discovers the skeletons of two human beings, curled together, as if they were still seeking warmth. The film then flashes back some 200 years as we see Cookie Figowitz picking mushrooms and trying to satisfy a group of angry, hungry trappers. To them, Cookie’s sole purpose is to provide them with food. One day Cookie’s miserable life changes: while walking in the woods, Cookie encounters King-Lu, a Chinese immigrant hiding.King-Lu is being pursued by Russians, who claim he killed one of them. Cookie shelters him in his rundown shack. They discover a lone cow grazing on the estate of Chief Factor, a wealthy British nobleman. Under cover of darkness, Cookie sneaks into the pasture, milks the cow, while King-Lu serves as lookout. With an ample supply of milk, Cookie and King-Lu decide to become entrepreneurs. Cookie will bake his specialty-“oily” cakes” consisting of nuggets of fried dough garnished with honey and cinnamon. They sell the cakes at the Farmers Market where they are gobbled up. The Chief Factor is so impressed that he urges Cookie to bake one of his favorites London pastries, bring them to his mansion, so he can serve them to a visiting ship captain. King-Lu is concerned this might lead to disaster. After all, wouldn’t the Chief Factor want to know where Cookie got the milk to bake the pastries? But Cookie wants to go ahead. Now, will these two dear friends, with such a close bond, who work so well together, encounter tragedy?
Why Stream This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 96%
- Metacritic Score: 89
Berlin International Film Festival: Nominated, Best Film
Selected as a New York Times Critics Pick
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The performances by John Magaro and Orion Lee are beautifully modulated and nuanced. Each actor’s expressions and reactions reveal their emotions. They have a sly way of looking at one another to communicate what does not need to be said. This makes the friendship between Cookie and King-Lu feel real. FIRST COW is a wonderfully unhurried film, which may be why it is so captivating.
There is something spare and small, and yet equally grand and awe-inspiring about FIRST COW.
Though it surveys a grim, Hobbesian struggle for survival, FIRST COW has more on its mind and in its viewfinder than the nasty, brutish war of each against all, or the systems of domination intended to keep that war in check. Even in the harshest circumstances, there is still room—still a primal need—for sweetness, for companionship, for art.
FIRST COW is somehow both brutal and pastoral, peaceful and laced through with the inevitability of disaster and death. But, above all, it is a story of friendship, treated here as a haven and basic human need, as essential as water or bread.
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