‘COW’ needs no words to express the life of an animal :: WRAL.com

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The human voice, a necessity in virtually every movie, is barely existent and totally secondary in “COW.” We only hear random, muffled, unimportant snippets of conversation from people we don’t know and don’t need.

The only character that matters in Andrea Arnold’s deeply moving documentary about the life cycle of a dairy cow is Luma, the cow. Through her expressive sounds and soulful eyes – which we see and see through – we feel what it must be like to be her, a creature whose sole purpose is to provide milk, mate and procreate. . In Arnold’s careful, unhurried hands, it’s a sobering lesson, but without a clear agenda. Arnold just seems interested in telling us Luma’s story. And that is enough.

It should be noted that the humans of “COW”, the workers of a British dairy farm, hardly seem evil. They are, in fact, lovable and quite humane as they spend their days milking cows with mechanized nozzles, guiding them in and out of cages and endless metal contraptions, stapling tags on their ears, ensuring they mate, supervising their births. The whole company is examined here. We all knew it existed. Most of us just hadn’t sat down and watched it for 94 minutes.

We begin with what would, at first glance, seem like a comforting scene: the birth of a calf. The newborn is shot from Luma in extreme close-up (and in complete silence), twinkling after birth. Gently, Luma licks her baby clean.

It’s a thrilling – and deceptive – sight. The two are almost immediately separated, the calf taken to another part of the farm. Luma later appears to search for her. The baby is fed through a plastic contraption. Breastmilk? It’s for our coffee.

Arnold goes on to describe a life of mud, metal and endless machinery. We watch as a contraption lifts the cow into the air sideways so the hooves can be trimmed. We also witness a coupling session, which gives Arnold the opportunity to inject a note of humor, via pop music – “All night give me mad love”, come on the lyrics of “Mad Love” from Mabel – and fireworks at the end.

But other than that, neither humor nor wit plays a role here. Seen from Luma’s perspective, it’s a never-ending drudgery of milking and herding, since dairy cows must always be lactating. A visit from the doctor who checks her reproductive organs and says she’s “doing pretty well!” seems more sinister in this context. Soon she will be able to mate and give birth again to a calf that will again be taken.

Arnold’s editing choices sometimes create a disorienting experience, and that’s surely intentional. We imagine that Luma must often wonder where she’s going and why she’s moved, and so we wonder too.

Of course, the narration would also make the viewing experience less disorienting – if we were to learn about various dairy farming methods, for example, or just hear people, like in another film that took us into the world interior of an animal, “My Octopus Teacher. But that too is an intentional choice on Arnold’s part. She teaches not by storytelling, but by compiling moments of an animal’s experience.

“This film is an attempt to consider cows,” Arnold says in a statement accompanying his film. “To get closer to them…not in a romantic way but in a real way. It’s a film about the reality of a dairy cow and acknowledging her great service to us.

In other words, the film aims less to condemn than to educate, and even more to appreciate. Never does this message run deeper than at the film’s surprisingly abrupt ending, which we won’t describe here.

“When I look at Luma, our cow, I see the whole world in her,” says Arnold. His vision shines through, poignantly, in a simple yet sobering film that can stay with you for a long time. However, you can smell that cow’s milk in your coffee.

“COW,” an IFC Films release, is unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Duration: 94 minutes. Three out of four stars.

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