Cannes 2024 Review: HOLY COW, French Cheese-Making Dramedy Is a Finely Crafted Debut Feature

Louise Courvoisier directed. A brash young man is humbled by provincial life.

Contributing Writer; New Jersey, USA (@fuzzyyarns)
Cannes 2024 Review: HOLY COW, French Cheese-Making Dramedy Is a Finely Crafted Debut Feature
Coming-of-age tales are a perverse cliché of independent filmmaking and especially debut features; your average edition of Sundance contains about a dozen every year.
These templatized, frequently auto-fictional films are severely deficient in novelty, imagination and ambition. French director Louise Courvoisier’s first feature, Holy Cow, bucks the trend by refusing to succumb to the tropes of the genre.
She paints a portrait of an excessively wild young man who runs roughshod over his family, friends and even romantic partners. When the comeuppance finally comes, it isn’t so much a pat transformation, or a cheap epiphany but a sobering humbling. Life hurtles by even the young and the beautiful; Holy Cow’s compassionate gaze makes it uniquely French and Courvoisier’s singular vision.
When we first meet 18-year-old Anthony “Totone” (Clément Faveau), he’s tipsy and being egged on by his friends at a local fair to perform the ‘Limousin Jig’. He gets on a barrel, strips completely naked and triumphantly flashes the crowd. There are thunderous cheers and at least one girl is impressed by what she sees and takes him home to fuck.
Lest the audience perceive him as some kind of a baller, Courvoisier immediately cuts him back to size. Totone has whisky dick and can’t get it up. And then has to be driven home by his disapproving father, who thinks he is a useless bum.
From then on, the terrible decisions made by Totone only escalate in magnitude. When a girl he fancies turns him down, he impulsively bottles her buff date and gets brutally beaten up. He also inadvertently causes a major tragedy in his own life.
As circumstances see him ending up as sole breadwinner and caretaker for his 7-year-old kid sister Claire (Luna Garret), his self-sabotage continues unabated. He lands a janitor job but gets fired within days for assaulting the employer’s son. And on a lark decides to make cheese for a provincial contest where the best Comté cheese in the region will win 30,000 euros.
Penniless, he somehow needs to acquire high-quality milk to make his cheese. When a young farmwoman, Marie-Lise (Maïwene Barthelemy), takes a liking to his fresh looks, he starts using sex and emotional intimacy to distract her while his friends rob her milk storages. Things only get more complicated when he catches feelings too.
The parade of misfortunes, self-afflicted or circumstantial, befalling Totone can seem like a pile-on, but screenwriters Courvoisier and Théo Abadie deserve enormous credit for moving the story along at a steady, entertaining clip. Courvoisier is a first-time filmmaker and does not take the audience’s attention for granted.
She packs the compact 90-minute runtime of her film with incident, locations, recurring characters and crisscrossing narrative threads to create a deeply engrossing film. It has the richness and texture of a beautifully rendered novella, a modest tale but not lacking in depth or insight. A singular milieu always adds interest to a story and such is the case with the cheese-competition plot, which is well integrated into the overall storyline. A race-driving strand further illuminates the local country life.
Of enormous value is the verisimilitude of the provincial farmland setting. ‘Film what you know’ is often preached to first-time filmmakers and Courvoisier follows that to a T, setting and shooting the movie in the Jura region, where she hails from. The surroundings add unostentatious pictorial beauty to the images and immerse the audience in the lives of Holy Cow’s characters.
The artisanal, hand-crafted feel of the movie originates from its production; Courvoisier deployed her family in front of and behind the camera. Her siblings served as art directors and her mother created the score with her brother.
The ‘let us get together and make a movie’ approach extends to the cast, comprised entirely of non-professional first-timers from the community. They perform splendidly despite their inexperience. Faveau carries the film with easy grace, not sawing off the edges of a character many might find to be an asshole. His slender frame and puppyish looks belie the bluster and machismo he often projects.
His pairing with the fit Barthelemy creates a nice contrast, as for once it is the man who is prettier and more petite. Garret, wise beyond her years, anchors the key sibling relationship that blossoms during the film. Mathis Bernard as a race driver jock and Dimitry Baudry as an easy-going rake provide great support as Totone’s best friends.
Courvoisier has no judgment for the brashness and heedlessness of youth, fleeting as it is; life happens to the best of us. Here’s a filmmaker who at just 30 years of age shows considerable promise through her deceptively accomplished film. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her in Competition at Cannes in subsequent years.
Holy Cow (Vingt Dieux) premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival.
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CannesCannes 2024Clément FaveauHoly CowLouise CourvoisierVingt Dieux

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