Andrea Arnold efficiently adapts her social realist mode to minutely chronicle the lifetime of a mean dairy cow.
“Thank you for giving your time to our cow,” stated Andrea Arnold introducing the Cannes premiere of her documentary, Cow. In cooperation with the dairy and cattle folks at a British farm, the director of such bruising social realist movies as Purple Street, Fish Tank and (to a lesser extent) American Honey has switched her focus to the standard bovine for a feature-length chronicle that presents with out remark the situations during which dairy cows stay out their days.
Though there’s a massive ensemble forged, one cow – Luma – has been singled out because the protagonist. She provides beginning to a lovely child calf, aided by birthing chains connected to the new child’s hooves and heaved out by the farmers. The digicam zooms in on Luma’s massive pink tongue licking yellow birthing fluid off her calf. The depth of those photographs body an animal that’s ubiquitous-to-the-point-of-invisibility in a brand new gentle. Handheld close-ups on demure brown eyes, lengthy white eyelashes, heaving udders and hefty flanks drum up a way of awe and respect for these docile creatures.
Cows are centred in each shot, with human presence initially diminished to sights and sounds that leak into the body when milking, feeding, herding or in any other case going about their cow-based enterprise. The voices are affable, the palms practised and brisk. One feels that possibly this isn’t going to be a call-to-action movie that shines a light-weight on the horrors of the dairy trade. Maybe as an alternative a cinematic love letter to a cow?
The rapture of the deal with Luma and her friends within the cow barn results in emotional funding and the query: are they completely satisfied? Each side of their day by day life is ruled by people: after they eat; how they sleep; after they have time to run free in a area; when a bull is introduced into mate; after they give beginning; when a vet has a hand inside them. Protecting the digicam so intently educated on these procedures invitations empathy when a cow flails, when having its horns cauterised or stands unnervingly nonetheless within the steel pens the place they’re stored flank-to-flank.
Regrettably, to the untrained eye, one cow seems very very like one other and there are occasions when the ensemble forged overwhelmed the delicate sense of a story afforded by cleaving to Luma and her calf. There have been stretches the place I feverishly wished that this was an hour lengthy documentary a few cow, quite than a 90 minute one. To her credit score, Arnold finds humour by way of modifying, slicing from a shot of a bull mounting his mate – pink organ unsheathed – to fireworks exploding within the sky.
A light sense of dread mounts as time ticks by. Whereas there’s a lack of direct editorialising, and the farmers are proven in an amiable gentle, the sheer reality of the cows’ captivity, dwelling to serve one particular objective, transmutes an anxiousness over what is going to change into of them. Surprisingly, for a movie with a logline that appears to be low on dramatic stakes, Cow appears like an Andrea Arnold image. There’s a visceral appreciation for her helpless topics that flows out of the movie like spilled milk.