Holy Cow. Curdled Maturity.

Holy Cow

It’s easy to tell when a film has been subtitled by a Brit rather than an American. In Holy Cow (Louise Courvoisier, 2024), set in the Jura region of France, women are “dead” beautiful, the men shout “blimey” and everyone drinks “pints.” Somehow it suits the regional specificity of Courvoisier’s locale, set in a world where there is little else to do other than drink beer and shag in the hay. 

Except for making cheese, bien sûr!

A cheesy cheese-making, coming-of-age tale, Holy Cow often feels like a low-key British comedy, with eccentric characters cut from a classic kitchen sink cloth. And our hero, the 18-year-old Totone (Clement Faveau), seems to have right rolled off the set of Skins (Bryan Elsley, Jamie Brittain, 2007-2013). In a telling opening scene, spurred on by copious amounts of cigarettes and beer, he strips bare naked in front of an encouraging fairground crowd. 

But beneath all that bluster, is little bark, Totone directionless with girls and with his non-existent career. After the tragic death of his father, he is left as the sole caregiver of his seven-year-old sister Claire (Luna Garret). 

These early scenes display Courvoisier and co-writer Théo Abadie’s keen ability for world-building and economical storytelling. And with darting eyes and fake bravado, Faveau gives us an easy character to root for, setting the scene for an unusual transformation. 

Left with no job and no prospects by his father (mother unknown), Totone attempts — in his own makeshift way — to win a 30,000 euro prize for the best cheese in the region. 

Yet, while it’s mildly diverting to watch cheese being made — recalling similar scenes, right down to the choice of cow feed, in Frederick Wiseman’s Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros (2023) — there is little urgency in his quest for glory. The prize money seems like a “nice-to-have” rather than a “must-win”. It really wouldn’t have hurt for the screenplay to introduce some extra element — like the imminent foreclosure of the farm, or a visit from social services — to evelate the tension. 

Rather Holy Cow genially ambles from one situation to another, significantly spiced up by the idiosyncratic love interest Marie-Lise (Maïwene Barthelemy). First-timer Barthelemy nails a specific type of young and lonely woman that you rarely see in film; totally commanding when she’s delivering calves or fixing a spigot while carrying that same energy into her odd romantic travails. I’d rather she was the hero rather than the all-too-typical Totone. I’ve tasted this cheese before.