(Original Title: La Vache)
We’re in the middle of nowhere, in the perhaps least known village of Algeria, somewhere in the desert, tucked in between dry, empty mountains, and Fatah is trying hard to grow lettuces. He will go as far as this in order to feed his family, but more than anything, Jacqueline, his cow who looks particularly beautiful today and who deserves more than any other cow to be given a place at the Paris International Agricultural Show. Once judges and audiences see Jacqueline, there is no doubt in Fatah’s mind that they will give her the first prize, and her owner will return home victorious.
When Fatah and Jacqueline do finally get invited to the Agricultural Show, the entire village chips in to help him pay for the journey. This marks the beginning of a very entertaining odyssey of a simple, modest man and his quietly loyal cow. A road trip mostly on foot, starting from Marseille, where the bizarre duo disembarks, and covering an insane distance of country-roads and highways, all the way up to Paris, and just in time – rather, a few minutes late – for Jacqueline to compete.
Read at Unsung Films: The Moo Man.
I should admit that I was skeptical about going to see La Vache in this year’s Biografilm Festival in Bologna. The premise – alongside a still of Fatah (Fatsah Bouyahmed) trying to get his cow through a river grabbing and pulling her horns – had got me worried that I would be witnessing scenes of animals being mistreated or used for man’s “higher” purposes and pleasures. And since real life has given me enough of that, I was trying to spare myself the disappointment until the very last minute.
I’m glad I did eventually decide to go, not only because I was let into what turned out to be one of the most entertaining films of the last few years, but also because the beauty of watching a protagonist so unconditionally in love with his animal was adding wonderfully warm layers to Mohamed Hamidi’s film and leaving the viewer thoughtful, amused and cozy inside. Fatah hugs and kisses Jacqueline; he pays her compliments and confides in her; he even covers her eyes when they’re passing the butchers – because nobody should have to look at that, let alone his sensitive, vegetarian companion.
What attracted me to Fatah as a hero was how well behind and advanced he seems to be. He can’t confess his love to his own wife, but he does it constantly to his cow. He doesn’t show emotion on any level, but then showers Jacqueline with kisses. He’s simple, but he’s also rather complex. Traditional and ahead of his time. There is a great communication gap between him and his family, but the deepest understanding between him and his cow. She’s not another member of the family, she’s the most important member.
The people he meets on his way to Paris are all very different, but not that strange. They all represent different kinds of normality, with the only thing connecting them being him, the so-simple-that-ends-up-coming-across-insane Fatah. It’s odd but refreshing to not have a protagonist always meeting stranger and stranger individuals on his way to his destination. It’s great to make them all normal for once and allow the guilelessness of our hero to breathe some weirdness into the story.
Watch the trailer for One Man and his Cow (Original Title: La Vache) here: