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Our review of At the End of the World: Sentimental Cowboy

Viggo Mortensen's western has only one flaw, and the writer-director-actor is not to blame: its French title.

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Our review of At the End of the World: Sentimental Cowboy

Viggo Mortensen's western has only one flaw, and the writer-director-actor is not to blame: its French title. Until the End of the World may have already been used for a Wim Wenders film, but it is dull and dull. The original title, on the contrary, has character: The Dead Don’t Hurt. The alliteration hits and makes sense. The French translation could be “the dead do not suffer”. The story opens with the image of a woman lying in bed. A man watches over her tenderly. He is alive and inconsolable. “Elegy for a Cowboy” could also have served as a title. A melancholy veil covers the flashbacks which trace the thread of a story of love and death.

The American West of the 1860s is a land of adventure and romance. Holger Olsen, an immigrant of Danish origin, seduces Vivienne Le Coudy (Vicky Krieps), a somewhat fierce Quebecer. Unless it's the other way around. He convinces her to follow him to Nevada. An isolated wooden hut in an arid valley becomes their love nest.

They sometimes go to town. After many other filmmakers (Sergio Leone in Once Upon a Time in the West, Robert Altman in John McCabe), Mortensen films it like a movie set, the last nail barely driven, in a wild landscape. It is populated by characters who are all archetypes. The corrupt mayor. The omnipotent landowner and his son who is good for nothing except spreading terror. A real brute. Between two bad things, the young man gets drunk at the saloon, where Vivienne takes a job as a bartender. Olsen's work as a carpenter is not enough to support the household. So much so that Olsen decided to enlist when the Civil War broke out, in the hope of returning whole with his soldier's pay.

Vivienne remains alone in a hostile environment. A world of men. She will pay the price for her independence. She will pay the price of being a woman. Until the End of the World is not a stupidly feminist film. The western did not wait for Viggo Mortensen to feature powerful women - in 1957, Samuel Fuller made Barbara Stanwyck the leader of a band of outlaws in Forty Killers. Vivienne is not a virile cowgirl with a colt in her hand and her finger on the trigger. She is a free and strong woman facing male violence.

Vicky Krieps finds here her finest role since the one that revealed her, in Phantom Thread, by Paul Thomas Anderson. Mortensen has already proven that the cowboy outfit (hat, horse and rifle) suits him well. It was in Appaloosa, a western also signed by an actor in the person of Ed Harris. The actors, nostalgic for the golden age of Hollywood, love the genre when they go behind the camera, like Clint Eastwood or Kevin Costner, eagerly awaited at the Cannes Film Festival with Horizon, the first part of a fresco on the origins of the American West.

But Mortensen takes the western to his territory. Or rather in his own way, a mixture of gentleness and revolt. Olsen's return from the Civil War heralds the time for revenge. It doesn't necessarily arrive where we expect it. He has the features of a child. It is overwhelming.

"Until the end of the world". Western by Viggo Mortensen. With Viggo Mortensen and Vicky Krieps. Duration: 2 h 09.

Le Figaro’s opinion: 3/4.

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