Cannes Film Festival 2024: Day 5: Friday, 17 May: Holy Cow (2024) (Vingt Dieux)

Holy Cow, co-written and directed by Louise Courvoisier, is an involving coming-of-age story set in rural France.

Good God!

by Alexa Dalby

Holy Cow

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Holy Cow – as well as being an expression of surprise (Vingt Dieux!), it shows the important status dairy cows have in this remote, cheese-making, agricultural area of France – Jura.

Totone (Clément Favreau) is only 18, but he’s a hard-drinking party animal. That’s until his father dies and he has to look after his 7-year-old sister Claire (Luna Garret). I can’t help wondering how that is allowed and why social services did not step in. He tells a neighbour he has no family to help him.

Anyway, he has to grow up quickly, finding a job as a cleaner on a neighbouring dairy farm, doing the household chores at home and taking Claire to school on his moped. He’s endearingly determined, even when it means getting up to go to work at 4am after the night before or getting beaten up by other boys where he works.

When he hears about the prize money that can be earned in competitions from making the local Comté cheese, he decides to go for it. He teaches himself how to make cheese and has several attempts, helped by his friends and little sister.

He realises that good milk is a factor in success. Not being able to afford to buy it, he has the idea of stealing it from the farm where he is working. This means he has to submit to a relationship with the sexually eager girl Marie-Lise (Maïwene Barthelemy) who has inherited the farm.

The film is surprisingly fascinating as it shows the techniques of artisan cheese-making. You almost feel you know enough to do it yourself after watching it. It is rooted in unique knowledge of the region over several years and made with non-professional actors (apart from Favreau and Barthélémy), who cope well with the demands made on them.

The film is heartfelt and the location is wonderful: both are well worth a longer look, but the overall feeling that the film leaves you with is that the director has not yet reached her full potential. What is more, it is a film that does not want to examine the unconsciously misogynistic attitudes of the generation of young rural boys – though maybe that’s not the intention here.

In Britain there used to be a body called The Children’s Film Foundation. It financed and made films where children were the central protagonists, and acted and resolved problems independently of adults. Although Totone is a bit too old at 18 to be in such a film, in some other respects, such as cheese-making, Holy Cow would fit the bill as a contemporary version.

Holy Cow premiered at Cannes in Un Certain Regard on 17 May 2024. The director is also eligible for the Camera d’or. International sales are by Pyramide International and representation by The PR Factory.

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