April 8th, 2022
STARRING: LIN GALLAGHER, ANDREA ARNOLD
DIRECTED BY: ANDREA ARNOLD
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
How does a film critic go about convincing his audience that an hour-and-thirty-four minute movie that follows the days of a Cow and its newborn calf is one of the best movies of 2022? It’s nearly impossible, but in many ways Andrea Arnold’s newest film is the embodiment of independent filmmaking, and the spirit of cinema verite. It’s a documentary, but it’s also an experience, and an experiment. Arnold keeps the camera on the hip of a cow, during the process of giving birth, during the process of being milked, and every moment in between. Cow is the embodiment of realism through the medium of cinema, where Andrea Arnold delivers a groundbreaking production, and a true piece of art.
When watching Cow there are a handful of directors that come to mind in making this kind of film. Werner Herzog has made a plethora of documentaries that capture his subjects in their elements, such as Happy People or Into the Abyss. Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I was a documentary about potatoes and the people who scrounge the dug up grounds for any possible food that can be salvaged. More recently, Viktor Kosakovskiy’s Gunda pairs perfectly, his documentary shot in black & white, following the life of a pig with the title name. That film was arguably less graphic, keeping the shots to a more peaceful existence, as we witness a pig that is not subjected to the life of dairy farming. What Arnold makes sure to do is capture it all, the good and bad, the mud, the munching of green grass, and the constant struggle of cattle giving birth. Showing the rosey side of life is never in Arnold’s repertoire, but she does balance the beauty with the brutality, something that’s impossible not to respect.
The cow’s name is Luma, living in a farm in Kent, England, who from the onset is pregnant, and soon gives birth to her calf. There are brief flashes to how her young is fairing, but the majority of the footage is only of Luma, herded behind fences, positioned for her head to feed, and hooked up to the milking systems. It’s that up close capturing that Arnold wants her audience to experience, to fully engage in what it is like to be in this existence of a cow. I would argue that Arnold is not trying to shock us to care for the life of a cow, but instead just capturing what the camera sees. There can’t be an argument of Cow being a piece of propaganda when all she’s doing- along with cinematographer Magda Kowalczyk- is revealing the footage that she has.
It’s also a fascinating follow-up film for Arnold, whose last film- American Honey, which was in my Top-10 of 2016, was a film that dramatized a side of America that audiences never knew existed. It was a shocking piece, where outcasts infiltrated the suburban way of living and revealed the stardom of Sasha Lane. It was unintentionally a precursor for what would happen in America after the 2016 election, but also proof that a director from Kent, England could make her style of film relate anywhere. With Cow Arnold goes back to her hometown roots and makes a movie that could be considered a shoestring budget- the Google machine says it was made for a measly two-million. For that kind of dollar amount, there should be even more praise handed out for Arnold’s direction.
The only reason for hesitation on giving Cow 4-stars is that yes, this is a movie that takes patience from the viewer, an ability to let your mind and your thinking do the work needed with its runtime. Some might find it to be a form of propaganda for animal rights or Arnold trying to convince us of a way to think. I believe she just wants us to consider the cows. To consider their existence, to understand that they are living, breathing, experiencing something, and subjected to a life that could be more pleasant. As Dave Grohl once said, “I’m called a cow, and I’m not about to blow it now for all the cows”. I say challenge yourself. See Cow. If not for me, then do it for all the cows.
COW IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS APRIL 8TH, 2022
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady