57th Chicago International Film Festival Capsule Review

Cow, 2021.

Directed by Andrea Arnold.

SYNOPSIS:

A close-up portrait of the daily lives of two cows.

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One of the first of many prolonged shots in Andrea Arnold’s Cow (making her documentary debut, most known for incredible directorial efforts such as Fish Tank and American Honey) stays on a female cow that has just given birth to a calf. The moos may as well be cries for help that penetrate your soul. Having just been separated from her offspring, it’s the initial sign that this farm life is a whole lot of abuse.

For roughly 90 minutes, Andrea Arnold takes viewers on a tour of suffering; unnatural milking, breeding cycles (utilizing lovemaking music for a darkly comedic effect, with an equally brilliant cut to some fireworks before they get it on), feeding, cramped living environments that in no way reflect something normal and healthy for them, stapling numbered stickers to them like the literal products they are, horn burning, and multiple invasive violations of private parts graphically captured for effect. Put it this way, Cow is the only place I’ve heard a song from Billie Eilish and didn’t have any fun; the soundtrack choices are bleak strokes of genius.

It’s also shot with passive beauty, with the camera typically at ground level for more substantial immersion. Much like last year’s Gunda (which followed the routine of a pig), Cow is essentially a silent film that lets the visuals do the storytelling. However, I’m sure we have an idea of what Andrea Arnold and her cinematographer want to say to these farmhands. Naturally, the ending is heartbreaking (especially given it’s presented as just another day at work), but viewers will be prepared for the inevitable. Cow can occasionally feel repetitive as it makes its point early and often, but its sum is a lingering haunting.

Tickets can be purchased here. Cow has no official release date yet, but will presumably release in 2022.

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]

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