Andrea’s film review – Cow

Cow⭐️⭐️⭐️  – Review by Andrea Carnevali

A close-up portrait of the daily lives of two cows. Out in selected cinemas now and on MUBI.

I never thought I would be so mesmerised by watching cows going about their daily lives for 90 minutes (because that’s essentially what this documentary is all about).

Cow might possibly be the closest you’ll ever be to these animals.

Director Andrea Arnold provides no commentary, but from the way the film is shot and thanks to some careful (and mostly invisible) editing choices, these animals might as well be talking.

The camera is always at ground levels with them, very close to their faces, often focusing on their eyes, so much so that you can almost see what they’re thinking. You’ll be able to feel their agony at being separated from their calf after birth, but also their happiness at being let out in the sunshine to the pasture among fresh green grass, though that’s just an occasional event.

The reality is pretty monotonous (in fact a little bit like the film itself): milking, breeding, eating, sleeping and then more milking and eating and sleeping… and so on and so on.

At times there is a feeling that this is not just about cows on a farm, but it’s about animals in captivity: the way they are packed together (so much so that the camera is often knocked off), the close ups on their sad eyes as their horns are being burnt and as they are pushed about from one area to another as well as their numbered tags on their ears, all contribute to the feeling that these are actually prisoners in slave camp more than anything else.

But at the same time these cows are relatively well looked after and taken care of: constant checks, antibiotics and the odd sweets word of encouragement. Humans are present, but always in the background. We sometimes hear their voices off camera, we see their hands and legs, coming in and out of frame, but the film never focuses on their faces; this is really just about the cows.

Yes, at times it feels a bit repetitive and possibly that’s the point, but overall considering the simple concept of the film itself, it’s actually very well handled (except for a badly judged, not very subtle cut from a cow mounting another to some fireworks. It might make you laugh, but it falls into a different type of film, and it’s a cheap gag).

The inevitable ending comes so abruptly and coldly it is heart-breaking, but what makes it even more chilling is how matter-of-fact it is: this is just another day on the farm.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.

Cow is out in selected cinemas and on MUBI from Friday.

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