Cowboy del Amor

| January 16, 2006

Cute, quaint and quite often funny in that homegrown way, Cowboy del Amor is a charming documentary that looks at desperate, lonely men and their unlikely savior, Ivan Thompson, the “Cowboy Cupid.” But what starts out—and could’ve just floundered —as a film chronicling the odd business of hitching American men with Mexican women (Ivan suggests they’re easier to handle) quickly strikes gold in exploring the burgeoning relationship of one of his clients, Rick, and his Mexican dream girl, Francis. And though Ivan says it’s the prospecting that’s more thrilling than finding what you’re after, Michèle Ohayon’s film is saved by the rich and poignant moments she’s caught on camera of love, that rarest of flowers, blossoming.
It’s a brilliant mix, accidental or not. On one side, Thompson cracks comparisons to Jesus (“we both get a lot of criticism about our work”) and doctors (“loneliness is a bad disease”), and is quite the humorous character, human and vivacious. (At one point, he recites from memory both a piece of hate mail and his peevish reply.) We can trust his soft lilt and promises…”I’ll be happy if you’re happy”…and his cute cowboy hat; he’s a disarming fellow, one of those honest and straight-to-the-point people who you can’t help feeling are passive-aggressive, even if you never see aggression. Of course, all this natural charisma makes him come off as a bit of a showman (he plays to the camera), and he’s definitely a hokey eccentric, with an accent and set of mannerisms almost straight off King of the Hill .
It’s easy for Rick and Francis to steal the show (despite Cowboy del Amor’s proclamation that it is “starring” Ivan Thompson), because tenderness always trumps humor. It’s realer. And those lovely moments Ohayon has preserved…like Francis’ first glimpse of Rick’s house (Stranger in a Strange Land) or the always awkward meeting with the in-laws…touch the heart more than any of Thompson’s homilies or anecdotes. Even when Ivan talks about his own relationships and we see the lingering shadow of loneliness in his own eyes, he remains distanced behind his showmanship, whereas Rick and Francis simply are.
That’s what a good documentary should do, and Ohayon, by allowing the characters and images to take over, shows herself to be an adaptable and commendable director. By removing herself completely from the picture (there are no voice-overs, only sub-titles where linguistically necessary) and de-emphasizing the focus on Thompson, the film transcends the hokey premise of simply “looking” for love . . . by finding it.

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