Holy Cow!


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Holy Cow
"The action is pacy but that doesn’t mean Courvoisier skims the surface." | Photo: Laurent Le Crabe

The unpredictable but seemingly unlimited energy of youth fuels Louise Courvoisier’s debut, which also nails a teenage outlook on rural life that is just as applicable in many other parts of Europe as it is in France. And if there’s one place all that energy gets to spill out, it’s a county show. That’s where we get to see 18-year-old Totone (Clément Favea, making an impressive debut alongside several other newcomers in this ensemble cast) in his element. He’s every bit as impulsively fiery as his ginger hair might suggest, drinking and smoking alongside his buddies like there’s no tomorrow.

Right from the off, Courvoisier moves with the rhythms and spontaneity of the young and shows a keen eye for the mood switching that can happen at that age, with Favea also perfectly capturing the way joy can turn to apprehension in a heartbeat. The writer/director is from the Jura region where the film is shot and her love for it also comes through in her respect for the landscape, as cinematographer Elio Balezeaux frequently makes the most of the early morning light as mist clings to the landscape. It’s also there in the cadence of the dialogue, co-written with Théo Abadie, which is peppered with the “Vingt dieux!” (literally “twenty gods”) Holy Cow! exclamation of the film’s title.

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Drinking is shown to be a family tradition once we meet Totone’s dad, who is even more soused than his son, as the teenager attempts to pour him into his car at the end of the evening. It’s a move that is unlikely to end well and, so it proves, as Totone’s life and that of his seven-year-old sister Claire (Luna Garret) change overnight. Totone’s partying lifestyle finds itself on a collision course with the reality of having to get his sister ready for school in the morning and attempting to make ends meet. Courvoisier makes good use of her ensemble cast here (including Mathis Bernard and Dimitri Baudry as Totone’s pals), exploring male bonding that may be rough and ready but is also underpinned by looking out for one another. A subplot concerns stock car racing, it’s barrelling nature another mirror of the young protagonist’s unruly but indomitable spirit.

It’s at this point that Totone, in the spirit of spontaneity that Courvoisier has carefully established, hatches an idea to use his dad’s cheese making equipment to craft a Comté cheese in the hopes of winning a 30,000 euro prize. Where other filmmakers might use this stunt to shape the arc of the film, Courvoisier handles it much more lightly, folding Totone’s attempts at cheesemaking greatness neatly into the fabric of his coming-of-age journey. While we’ll certainly learn a thing or two about cheesemaking, just as interesting is the relationship he embarks on with young farmer Marie-Lise (Maïwène Barthelemy, brimming with natural talent) for a complex set of reasons, not all of them good. There's an earthiness to these exchanges too that acknowledges Totone's inexperience without being overly coy about the whole thing.

The action is pacy but that doesn’t mean Courvoisier skims the surface. All the characters have depth, and are driven in their own ways and she also makes time for quieter moments to find their own voice. An earthy mix of adventure romp and coming of age experiences, Courvoisier’s film is ripe with feeling.

Reviewed on: 05 Jun 2024
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After the sudden death of his father an 18-year-old finds himself looking after his sister... and changing his life.

Director: Louise Courvoisier

Writer: Louise Courvoisier, Théo Abadie

Starring: Clément Faveau, Maïwène Barthelemy, Luna Garret, Mathis Bertrand, Dimitry Baudry

Year: 2024

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: France

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