COW (2022, doc)

Greetings again from the darkness. Farming and ranching are about two main things: commerce and sourcing food and other items (wool, leather, cotton, etc). Director Andrea Arnold won an Oscar for her short film WASP (2003), and also directed a couple of narratives that I’ve seen, WUTHERING HEIGHTS (2011) and AMERICAN HONEY (2016). Her first feature documentary takes us to a dairy farm in rural England, and closely follows the daily life of the cows on the farm.

We open with the birth of a calf and the instant bonding with its mother, Luma. Then, as we’ve seen in other documentaries, the two are separated and we clearly see the anxiety this creates in the bovines. But this is a working dairy farm and cows exist for two reasons: to produce milk and to have babies. Ms. Arnold wisely keeps the focus on the cows, and the human workers are rarely seen or heard. It’s not a pleasant existence for the cows. They spend time being milked by a metallic contraption or being impregnated by a local bull. Denied connection with their offspring, the cows seem to be allowed very little time to frolic or graze in the fields.

Cinematographer Magda Kowalczyk does get some creative shots, but there are a few times the closeness of the camera to the cows gives us a feeling of temporary motion sickness. We are also bounced between mother and calf quite often, and we ‘feel’ the mother’s bellowing as she longs for her baby. The point is made that cows have feelings, especially as related to their offspring, but some of the attempts to drive that home stretch credulity a bit too far. Also responsible for a slight dulling of the film’s impact is that it arrives so closely to last year’s artistic masterpiece, GUNDA (2021) from Viktor Kosakovskiy, though director Arnold wins for the most abrupt ending (for us and the cow).

In theaters and On Demand beginning April 8, 2022


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