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Film / The Cow and I

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The Cow and I (French title La Vache et le Prisonnier, literally The Cow and the Prisoner) is a 1959 French dramedy film directed by Henri Verneuil and starring Fernandel.

In 1943, Charles Bailly (Fernandel) is a French prisoner of war in Germany since the French defeat of 1940. He is employed as work force at a farm, and while such fate is way more enviable than it is for many other prisoners, he decides to try an evasion. To do so, he takes the farm's cow, named Marguerite, with him, so the German soldiers he encounters on the way will be fooled into thinking he works in the vicinity anywhere he goes.

The Cow and I provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: In the climax once he arrives at the train station of Lunéville (in occupied France right next to the border with Germany), Charles tries to escape from French policemen and jumps into a train... which brings him back to Germany. He'll eventually come back to France, but only two years later after Germany's final defeat like most other prisoners.
  • Gilded Cage: Being employed at a farm is one of the best conditions prisoners of war can hope for during World War II, especially with a German widow as potential wife, but even this doesn't prevent Charles from risking his life to go back to France.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Charles' plan? He doesn't speak enough German and thus just ditching his prisoner outfit and running away isn't such a good idea, so he simply keeps his prisoner of war coat on, calmly walks on the roads and brings a cow and a bucket with him so patrolling German soldiers will think he's doing forced farm work nearby anywhere he goes.
  • The Homeward Journey: The film is basically Charles' odyssey through Germany to go back to France.
  • Institutional Apparel: French prisoners have the letters "KG" (Kriegsgefangene, literally "prisoner of war" in German) painted on the back of their coats to distinguish them.
  • Lazy Bum: The French prisoners at the sawmill camp Charles comes across are used for forced labor by the Germans. They sit around all day long doing nothing and imitate sawing sounds with their mouths whenever German officers leave them unchecked, and they "work" as slowly as possible when they're being checked. They also do that because, of course, it's patriotic.
  • POW Camp: Charles isn't detained in one at the beginning, being a forced laborer at a farm instead. He bumps into a sawmill where French prisoners are "working", or rather make the Germans think they work.