Cannes 74 - ‘Cow’ Review
There is a point in crying over spilt milk.
Andrea Arnold chose cows for the protagonist of her documentary, “because they’re feminine, hardworking and simply beautiful”. Almost no words are spoken as we follow the daily life of Luna, a black & white British bovine who deserves the palm d’or for best performance- although, well, she would probably eat it. The film begins with Luna giving birth to a calf, her fifth. The delivery is intense, but the tenderness which follows is heartwarming.
The uplift is not meant to last, however, as Luna doesn’t even manage to finish cleaning her baby when the farmers separate them. And this is how a bellow can become more powerful than a whole screenplay - it is a universal cry of mercy, defying any language; the shriek of a mother being divided from her calf.
You got it, Man is the bad guy. But the scariest part is how cruelty can be performed daily in an ordinary, industrialised way with no trace of sadism, nor humanity. Compassion is only seen in the tired black eyes of the cows: separated, pierced, tattooed, and milked. The hungry calf is fed through a plastic surrogate instead of her biological mother’s udder, which is squeezed till the last drop for someone’s cappuccino. They are mere stock, numbers, products, and not living beings anymore, despite their loud expressions of feelings. Incapable of any harm, their instincts are suppressed- even their horns are painfully burnt out from their skull. When lucky, they are allowed to play for a little while in a tiny, crowded paddock, or they are let free to ruminate in a peaceful green field. Here, Luna stares at the early stars of dusk, and I can’t help but wonder what is she thinking about. Maybe she is philosophically pondering the value of such an exploited existence, maybe she wishes to fly to those faraway stars, or maybe she is just resting in this illusory freedom, as by the morning she’ll be back in Cowshwitz.
Impregnated again, the cycle restarts. Another calf she won’t get to raise, another one condemned to this vicious non-existence without natural love. This is a moooving piece of cinema, not shining a light over the ignored problem of animal mistreatment, but trying to make us more aware about the misery that goes on “behind the scenes”, and appreciate the unacknowledged cow more. I don’t know about you, but I’ll think about it twice before I’ll let my milk expire in the fridge. Have a nice breakfast.