Monday, January 17, 2022

Andrea Arnold’s devastating documentary Cow will change the way you think about farm animals

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The award-winning director of Fish Tank spent four years following a single animal and its daily life. The result is heartbreaking

Some might say that there is little in her previous work to suggest that this subject is something she would be drawn to. But her ongoing theme of troubled motherhood is imprinted throughout. So does Arnold’s dedication, which seems absolute: the filmmaker and her crew spent four years following this one animal, trying to see in Arnold’s words if they could find “consciousness” in it.

cow is an almost wordless documentary about the daily life of a dairy cow named Luma. It’s by Andrea Arnold, the British director known for her fierce authenticity in films Red road, Aquarium and American honey.

Using an unobtrusive handheld camera punctuated by close-ups of Luma’s sweet bovine face, Arnold’s style remains unwaveringly realistic. The document begins with an unhindered and unsightly vision of Luma’s behind as two farmhands help her give birth to a calf.

Luma soon begins eagerly licking the insecure baby clean, but it’s not long before she is separated from him – both must continue to perform their functions on the farm. Unmistakably, she goes in search of the calf before releasing a plaintive series of moos that sound as unmistakably screams.

The grosser details of farm life and modern day dairy work are not spared. This is a cow’s-eye view of the world, from the scourge of flies to the terror of newly branded calves. There are many shots of Luma’s big eyes with a soft soundtrack underneath, making it difficult not to project human emotion onto her.

As she trotts from cage to larger cage, from manger to barn—all in a state of distress—expressions of “being herded like cattle” suddenly take on a new and difficult resonance. We can argue all day about humanizing animals, but Arnold makes it impossible not to overlook the fact that there is a real maternal instinct in these creatures.

After her umpteenth calf was taken from her almost immediately after birth, she refuses to eat and falls onto the cow next to her. This heartbreaking moment makes it difficult to doubt her ability to grieve.

Arnold’s doctor isn’t just doom and gloom. Her calmly observant style really captures fun moments of gameplay and silliness, such as: B. Two cows mating while trashy pop music blares nearby. Scenes with cows in the summer pasture chewing the cud against a background of a starry night sky have an idyllic and calming effect.

Ultimately though cow packs a powerful, disturbing punch. Regardless of your dietary preferences or farm animal sensibilities, this really changes your perception of the humble dairy cow. My face mask had to be wrung out until the credits rolled.

Now in cinemas

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