Best known for her powerfully lyric visions of social realism (Red Road, Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights, American Honey), the stunning British director Andrea Arnold now introduces her first documentary in a stark and unflinching look at the farmed life of a cow.
Probing footage follows the viscera of birth, the industrialised realities of dairy farming, forced pregnancy, regulated grazing and the grim inevitability of life reduced to ‘livestock’.
Throughout its immersive duration, we follow the life of one cow in particular; vividly lensed with the poetic intensity, compassion and un-sentimentalised clarity that has long characterised Arnold’s direction.
Unlike George Franju’s masterful short, Blood of the Beasts (La Sang des Bêtes, 1949) in which a slaughterhouse becomes the gutted stage of dark surrealism, or Viktor Kosakovskiy’s much more recent Gunda (2020), a wordless tribute to the life of a pig which reaches for transcendent empathy, Arnold’s documentary is less conceptually driven and more sensory.
It is a film that tries to feel, with honest and searching energy, what connects or separates us from the animal or non-human.
Visually (and in its fascinating sound design) this is a film raring to capture the up-close tactility and movement of experience and, without needing to ask, questions the ethical responsibility that comes from witnessing and sharing in that experience.
Interested in hearing more? For recommendations based on Cow, check out our blog post!