Sometimes, to clearly see the culture you come from, you need an outsider to look at it for you. The French newspaper Le Figaro seems to have operated on that theory when, in 1988, they celebrated the tenth anniversary of their magazine section by commissioning five short films from famous foreign directors — famous directors foreign to France, that is. The resulting series, entitled France As Seen By…, comprises Francocentric works by David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Andrzej Wadjda, Luigi Comencini, and Jean-Luc Godard, who, born in Paris but generally regarded as “Franco-Swiss,” presumably qualified as just foreign enough. You can now watch Lynch’s short, a half-hour bit of international slapstick called The Cowboy and the Frenchman, free on Youtube.
Harry Dean Stanton stars as Slim, a chaps-wearing ranch foreman “almost stone cold deaf on account of two rounds of 30.06 going off a little too close when he was thirteen and a half.” Lynch wastes no time putting this old cowboy of the title into an encounter with the stray Frenchman of same. When Slim spots him wandering across the prairie, he sends his crew (which includes Eraserhead star Jack Nance) over to lasso him. From their hapless captive, dressed in a three-piece suit and a beret, going on in French so simple as not to require translation about the Statue of Liberty, they seize a basket containing not only wine, and not only baguettes, but a model of the Eiffel Tower and an endless supply of escargot. Lynch finds a way to merge the world of the dreaming Frenchman with that of the anachronistic cowboy, bringing them together through surreal musical performances under the glowingly optimistic yet faintly sinister sheen of midcentury Americana. As is his way.