A new documentary about the life of a cow expresses mother/child familial values so succinctly you can make a case for its altruistic vision of compassion for animals as well as humans.
Another view of “Cow” the first documentary film from filmmaker Andrea Arnold (“American Honey,” “Fish Tank”) would be from the angle of “the cinema of cruelty” wherein Arnold has created a film that assaults the senses of the audience. This review will end with a spoiler paragraph that only the strongest readers are urged to peruse.
“Cow” trots you down a primrose path like you’re an animal bound for longevity. An ethereal plane of moviemaking combines the point-of-view of a bovine who has just given birth with the life cycle of an entity that wonders about their own place in the universe.
There’s plenty of establishing shots of Cow eating, or Cow grazing, or Cow tending to their calf. Not unlike the recent nature doc “Gunda” Arnold establishes a rustic acceptance of fences and scheduled events that the animal abides. We truly start to emphasize with Cow.
Look City Boy, if you’ve never been on a farm this is how it goes down for cows. The farmers have these plastic gloves that go up their shoulder and they shove that arm in the cow’s nether region looking for something or other. There’s a bit of that in “Cow.”
A sequence approximately past the mid-point has a rumination of cows in the dark of night watching the stars. Sincerely, this is one of the most spectacular moments in modern movies.
When you’re in the middle of nowhere hundreds of miles from big city lights, like a scenic viewpoint in the middle of the night, the stars and galaxies are like spider webs of light twinkling on the horizon. Arnold captures that ambiance in an extended scene.
The audience is immersed in the same sparkling lights in the nighttime sky that the cows are observing. This is Wiseman level documentary technique. You may becomes confused with a mammal counterpoint.
As idyllic as Arnold’s pastoral has been she abruptly ends the proceedings by killing off our heroine with a swiftness only paralleled by an unexpected meeting with Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men”). I’d be lying as a reviewer if I didn’t share the shocking conclusion since many people who will want to see this film, and may indeed be those who don’t see a lot of films but are attracted by the nature movie aspect of “Cow,” should be aware that this documentary wears its heart on its sleeve.
“Cow” opens in theaters and via streaming this week.