Five Favorite Films

Kelly Reichardt's Five Favorite Films

The First Cow director goes deep on the movies that informed her critically acclaimed new film, from a landmark Indian trilogy to an award-winning modern Italian classic.

by | July 7, 2020 | Comments

Kelly Reichardt

(Photo by Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Few filmmakers have a stamp as distinct as Kelly Reichardt‘s. The acclaimed director has been producing quietly devastating portraits of life on the economic margins of American society for the past 25 years; her films move quietly, slowly, centering on economic anxieties and reveling in the vistas of the American wild, whether on the frontier or in the country’s densest woods. For her latest, First Cow, she returns to the forest (echoes of Old Joy) and to the 19th Century (echoes of Meek’s Cutoff), adapting a portion of her co-screenwriter Jonathan Raymond’s novel, The Half Life.

As ever with Reichardt, the story is simple: It’s the Oregon Territory, and Chinese immigrant King Lu (Orion Lee) and traveling cook Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro) embark on a scheme to steal milk from a wealthy landowner’s cow in order to sell baked goods at market and save up enough money to rise above their station and pursue their dreams. But, as ever, the resonances are deep – the film’s imagery may be of docile cows and muddy paths and broke-down huts and silver pieces, but First Cow feels urgently of our time.

Ahead of the movie’s release, Reichardt spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about five films that were on her mind as she made First Cow, and which she feels are a piece with the new film’s look and feel, its characters, and its message. The movie will be digitally released Friday, July 10, 2020, giving people a new chance to see one of the most acclaimed films of the year.

Editor’s note: This interview took place before the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown and was originally published ahead of the movie’s limited theatrical release.


Ugetsu (1953) 100%

I mean the thing with Ugetsu, and the whole Apu Trilogy [discussed next], that I was really looking at when I was making First Cow, was that they are super low-to-the-ground films. You get to the ambition of the potter in Ugetsu, and the sort of dream sequences of it. I love the way it’s filmed, in the way the small villages are filmed, and the way you’re in this hutch all the time and everyone is super low-to-the-ground. I mean everyone’s sitting on the floor all the time and you’re wandering through these small towns and you’re inside these hutches, and I liked that Cookie [in First Cow] is sort of a down-to-the-ground guy – he’s a forager.

There are caste systems in both Ugetsu and the Apu Trilogy, and both of the protagonists are sort of at the bottom of the food chain and surviving hand-to-mouth. In the case of Ugetsu, I found that character relatable as far as King Lu [in First Cow] goes – he really wants to get a toe hold in the next level, and he’s very seduced by getting there; he just has kind of a narrow vision of like, “I’ve got to get to this place.” He also knows that he has to find a backdoor into it. And they’re all craftspeople in Ugetsu, and in First Cow Cookie is a cook and they’re constantly making things, and King Lu is sewing his slippers – it’s a life of just endless making of things because it’s how you’re surviving.

Pather Panchali (1955) 97%

Ultimately, there is ambition in the Apu Trilogy – he’s leaving his village and he marries into a different class. But there’s also that incredible friendship that runs through the Apu Trilogy. I return to the Apu Trilogy constantly. I saw it first in art school and I felt overwhelmed by it; as someone coming from Miami and who hadn’t seen anything of the world, I was just like, India, it’s too much for me. But for some reason it really resonated and I have returned to it so often. I find Satyajit Ray’s filmmaking so lyrical and there’s a real economy to the way he shoots the film. It’s all just pans; there’s no kind of dual camera movement ever going on. [Cinematographer Christopher] Blauvelt and I had a similar rule, except for when we’re in the Chief Factor’s house, when there’s like this more expressive kind of filmmaking going on and it feels a little grander. We had this really economical way of shooting; people moving in the frame and we pan one way or the other. But there were no parallel moves happening at once.

The Gleaners and I (2000) 93%

In Gleaners And I, what’s around you is what you survive on – it’s a kind of contemporary foraging that they’re doing. I thought of that, and Agnes [Varda, the director] was on my mind because, A) she passed away when I was making a film, and B) they brought back a print of Vagabond before I was shooting. I was in New York and I saw Lady Bird and the theater was packed and there was so much hype about Lady Bird at that time. Then I walked up and I saw Vagabond in this not-so-full theater and saw a print of it. I thought, “Oh my God, the inventiveness of that film and the sort of circular motion of it and how she just decides to let people talk to the camera at a point, even though she’s in this narrative!” Anyway, just her confidence to be so inventive with narrative form. She’s so inspiring. How she moved in and out of documentary and narrative and how her docs have such narrative threads in them and her narratives… she just opens the door, and it’s like, “OK, now you’re going to talk to these real people that aren’t actors,” and she is just very fluid between those two. I admire those things about her work so much.

Happy as Lazzaro (2018) 91%

I hadn’t seen that movie when I made First Cow, but then I went to Cannes and was on the jury. I had just finished editing, and when I got back from Cannes, I was going to do my sound mix. I met Alice [Rohrwacher, director of Happy as Lazzaro] – she was on the jury with me – and so I watched her film before I went, and I love this film and I thought, “Oh my God, there are some similar things to First Cow as far as, like, Lazzaro wakes up in some other house and you don’t know how much time has passed…” I put that on my list because it was very important to me to let Alice know I found her so inspiring and great, and I felt a real simpatico with her filmmaking. It feels in the world of my memory of making First Cow.

The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) 94%

I was working on a film with another writer friend that didn’t happen. It was going to happen in Europe if it happened, and I had been scouting for it, and I saw this film when I was thinking about that movie, and that maybe kind of bled into First Cow. Suddenly First Cow did come together, and they were both in the same period, and they both were sort of films of peasants in their little hutches. [In Wooden Clogs], this is like a little community of workers who are working on the property of their landlord; the Chief Factor in First Cow isn’t really a property owner, but he’s more like the CEO of Firestone going to another continent and using all the resources; he’s holding this kind of power in the region. There were some thematic things, but again, it’s people in their little houses working all day – always sewing, fixing things, feeding the animals – and then around the candlelight at night telling stories and cooking in their fires and everything is very tactile. All the hay, the thatch roofs, the wooden floors, all those things – the chores, the chores, the chores.


Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: We are seeing you return to the 19th century, to the early, early stages of this country. I’m wondering what is it that draws you to that period and interests you?

Well it was Jonathan Raymond’s novel, The Half Life, which has kind of been hovering around us, he and I, for a couple of decades, and we’ve been trying to think of how we could ever sort of get our arms around it, because the novel spans 40 years and there’s a ship ride to China and it’s this very big [story]. So part of it was that and that I had my head in this time period for this film that I ended up not making, and I had been sort of steeped in just some paintings from the 19th century, in images I didn’t really want to lose hold of. Some of it made its way into First Cow – things I had been living with for a while.


First Cow is available to rent or buy digitally from July 10, 2020.

#1

First Cow (2019)
96%

#1
Adjusted Score: 109305%
Critics Consensus: First Cow finds director Kelly Reichardt revisiting territory and themes that will be familiar to fans of her previous work -- with typically rewarding results.
Synopsis: Two travelers, on the run from a band of vengeful hunters in the 1820s Northwest, dream of striking it rich... [More]
Directed By: Kelly Reichardt

Thumbnail image: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images, ©Zeitgeist Films., © Netflix, Everett Collection

Tag Cloud

AMC Plus TCM Box Office 71st Emmy Awards obituary talk show debate reboot laika 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Avengers Tomatazos italian canceled Binge Guide Emmys Fantasy Comedy composers art house LGBTQ Broadway Rocky Pacific Islander japan women trailers Election Valentine's Day cats canceled TV shows Amazon Prime live event venice video Academy Awards TV One news Extras comic book movie E3 hispanic heritage month action-comedy comic books Britbox franchise sitcom Nominations police drama San Diego Comic-Con facebook Apple TV Plus Black Mirror mob black comedy Photos spider-man Mystery Creative Arts Emmys GIFs know your critic marvel comics Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt superhero biopic Stephen King emmy awards Mary poppins Biopics movie ViacomCBS Endgame marvel cinematic universe films cooking TV renewals Year in Review Alien 2018 ITV 93rd Oscars vampires SundanceTV Nickelodeon Tarantino Travel Channel MSNBC latino cartoon hispanic documentaries natural history Ghostbusters Marvel mutant Ovation Chernobyl disaster teaser remakes Mary Tyler Moore Superheroes classics new york Disney streaming service TV movies NBA halloween tv APB game of thrones Toys sequel joker Warner Bros. BBC America Country politics DGA 20th Century Fox doctor who Turner Heroines Action Epix TCA Awards book adaptation Shondaland chucky directors strong female leads video on demand Horror Hear Us Out 2020 Family Animation animated Ellie Kemper VICE kids WarnerMedia Pet Sematary romance rom-coms VH1 Hallmark cinemax documentary tv talk Video Games worst serial killer sag awards razzies The Walking Dead zero dark thirty TV anime concert GLAAD Pirates Instagram Live festival NYCC Reality Competition finale golden globes Thanksgiving telelvision Paramount television archives pirates of the caribbean monster movies TIFF Universal screen actors guild revenge Set visit Writers Guild of America 2021 New York Comic Con Spectrum Originals scene in color Music Western ID 90s thriller batman stop motion aliens Sundance Now comic book movies free movies Sci-Fi The Witch romantic comedy El Rey Martial Arts versus Classic Film SXSW scary Holiday olympics werewolf Acorn TV witnail BET Awards The Academy Disney Channel satire Tokyo Olympics award winner james bond Cannes Rocketman Women's History Month Emmy Nominations Opinion hollywood streaming movies IFC Films toronto Apple FXX travel critics Anna Paquin Awards Tour foreign Baby Yoda 99% toy story golden globe awards Musicals spider-verse saw 21st Century Fox TCA Winter 2020 Kids & Family superman movies all-time technology TruTV Best and Worst Quiz Neflix a nightmare on elm street FX on Hulu Comic-Con@Home 2021 Universal Pictures Tumblr parents Hallmark Christmas movies A24 The Purge children's TV Amazon Prime Video spanish black 24 frames comic boxoffice Premiere Dates king arthur robots king kong DC Universe nfl USA Network book critic resources YouTube BET scorecard National Geographic crossover based on movie Red Carpet SDCC harry potter PlayStation OWN new star wars movies Crunchyroll south america screenings what to watch slasher casting Holidays fresh Reality Schedule Pride Month crime thriller Super Bowl discovery PaleyFest Film CW Seed CMT legend The Arrangement unscripted CBS halloween Fox News Television Critics Association Captain marvel Legendary Film Festival cops science fiction dramedy Marvel Television dark Bravo lord of the rings docudrama FX RT History rotten CNN mcc YA BBC One indiana jones dragons Winners rotten movies we love period drama Chilling Adventures of Sabrina cars suspense Teen international IFC Marathons elevated horror TLC Sundance Food Network TNT Spike Freeform Christmas mission: impossible 2019 Polls and Games Mudbound Interview christmas movies nbcuniversal Amazon Studios spy thriller Shudder binge space docuseries Lucasfilm Lifetime 45 73rd Emmy Awards Cosplay Disney First Look Lionsgate streaming hist breaking bad Disney Plus Mary Poppins Returns child's play spinoff miniseries blaxploitation Certified Fresh 4/20 posters TV Land Countdown transformers Image Comics worst movies Summer rt archives godzilla Funimation Black History Month Starz Hulu comedies jamie lee curtis CBS All Access Elton John justice league Trailer universal monsters Sundance TV japanese asian-american TBS Trivia See It Skip It nature Sony Pictures Brie Larson festivals singing competition ghosts australia french Star Trek First Reviews popular high school Comic Book DC streaming service sports rt labs critics edition MCU cancelled TV series spanish language Sneak Peek Awards Watching Series Syfy History AMC die hard boxing cancelled game show Walt Disney Pictures twilight reviews Winter TV Fall TV new zealand OneApp Tubi Wes Anderson anthology Masterpiece quibi stand-up comedy HBO Go feel good BBC Calendar DirecTV 007 Exclusive Video YouTube Premium adenture VOD 2016 Pop TV football Comics on TV Comedy Central Television Academy FOX BAFTA Columbia Pictures Infographic cancelled TV shows royal family psychological thriller Nat Geo best HBO stoner aapi Mindy Kaling target true crime USA hidden camera supernatural Paramount Plus cults independent ABC WGN Discovery Channel Vudu Netflix Musical adventure HBO Max deadpool heist movie Rom-Com Podcast Amazon Disney+ Disney Plus LGBT fast and furious vs. kong Character Guide rt labs comiccon The Walt Disney Company Logo genre Peacock Rock biography ratings 72 Emmy Awards mockumentary Song of Ice and Fire Trophy Talk X-Men Cartoon Network President American Society of Cinematographers jurassic park dogs theme song Oscars Fox Searchlight zombie RT21 sopranos medical drama Lifetime Christmas movies green book Arrowverse YouTube Red spain E! Paramount Network Pixar A&E 2015 blockbusters TCA cancelled television NBC comics Grammys basketball name the review slashers psycho IMDb TV crime drama diversity war 1990s Spring TV blockbuster ESPN live action sequels PBS wonder woman renewed TV shows indie dc prank Drama dreamworks social media Apple TV+ political drama Pop kaiju Adult Swim crime TCA 2017 historical drama Netflix Christmas movies series MTV GoT Superheroe adaptation Dark Horse Comics dceu Showtime Marvel Studios criterion gangster DC Comics Star Wars Turner Classic Movies The CW Esquire Crackle 2017 richard e. Grant dexter scary movies ABC Signature zombies ABC Family young adult