Directed by: Andrea Arnold
Distributed by: IFC Films
Written by Jeff Sparks
First premiering at Cannes Film Festival due to her desire to show the film where art is appreciated, “Cow” is the fifth film in the career of legendary arthouse filmmaker Andrea Arnold. With nearly 200 hours of footage filmed over the course of four years, Arnold uses her first documentary in her feature-length career to paint an intimate portrait of the daily life of a cow named Luma in the back end of her life. With no setup whatsoever the film opens with a close-up of Luma giving birth in a dingy barn and immediately begins nurturing the newborn calf after it has popped out on the ground in a confused state. As an animal lover, Arnold wants the rest of this film to give each viewer a new perspective on the lives of nonhuman beings that they may not have had before. To do this she does not always show you important or even entertaining moments of this cow’s life but instead chooses to focus on the more quiet moments. With a white head holding significant black spots on her, Luma not only stands out from the herd because of her looks but also from her personality. Arnold specifically chose to film Luma due to her feisty mood. Often mooing at the camera or even bumping into Arnold’s camera team at times, Luma gives off the sense that there is much more going on in her head than would be expected from a farm animal.
“Cow” is a quiet film that doesn’t try to contain anything that isn’t authentic to Luma’s experience. Most of the runtime simply includes things you would expect to see a cow do. She moseys around pens or fields, eats, horses around, listens to jibber-jabber from farmhands, has intercourse, and sometimes just sits on the ground looking at her surroundings. The first half mainly just shows Luma in a barn or a pen with not much to see. Maybe that was the point but during these scenes, I was more interested in the songs playing on the farm’s radio that you can hear in the distance. I only started to connect with the film later on when we are shown Luma and the rest of the herd in huge open fields outdoors. Here we are treated to Arnold’s eye for nature in her cinematography.
Without her usual cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, Arnold and newcomer Magdalena Kowalczyk ditch her usual 4:3 aspect ratio and instead give us a full-screen view of Luma chewing on grass in lush fields as the sun shines down on her as she watches birds flying high above or fireworks lighting up the sky in the distance at night. Unfortunately, these moments come too late as I did not find myself connecting with this film the way I do with all other Arnold films. Despite my experience, this film will certainly work for many people and give each viewer a different experience. Some will feel conflicted as I do and others will be totally moved by it, while some casual viewers will be infuriated by the mundaneness of it all. Despite my slight disappointment in the film, I absolutely appreciate that Andrea Arnold has once again stuck to her vision and has made a piece of filmmaking that she is passionate about and that is unique to the world of cinema.
“Cow” is available to rent or purchase on VOD.