Capsule review of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival
Directed by Andrea Arnold.
Close up portrait of the daily life of two cows.
One of the first of Andrea Arnold’s many extended shots Cow (making her documentary debut, best known for her incredible directorial efforts such as Aquarium and American honey) remains on a female cow that has just given birth to a calf. The mooing can just as well be a cry for help entering your soul. Having just been separated from her offspring is the first sign that life on the farm is all about abuse.
For about 90 minutes, Andrea Arnold takes viewers on a tour of suffering; unnatural milking, breeding cycles (using love music for a dark, comedic effect, with an equally bright cut of some fireworks before they light it up), feeding, living environments cramped that in no way reflects anything normal and healthy for them, stapling numbered stickers for them like the literal products they are, horn burning and multiple invasive private part violations captured graphically for the effect. Put it like this, Cow is the only place where I heard a Billie Eilish song and I didn’t have fun; the soundtrack choices are dark strokes of genius.
It’s also shot with passive beauty, with the camera generally at ground level for more substantial immersion. Just like last year Gunda (which followed the routine of a pig), Cow is essentially a silent film that lets the visuals tell the story. However, I’m sure we have an idea of what Andrea Arnold and her cinematographer mean to these farm workers. Understandably, the ending is heartbreaking (especially since it’s billed as another working day), but viewers will be prepared for the inevitable. Cow can seem repetitive at times as it makes its point early and often, but its nap is a lingering haunting.
Tickets can be purchased here. Cow does not yet have an official release date, but will likely be released in 2022.
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter Where Mailbox, or email me at [email protected]