At first glance, the subject of Andrea Arnold’s documentary debut seems deceptively simple, like its title: Cow follows the everyday life of a dairy cow named Luma. Yet, it is not a pleasant observational documentary about life on a farm, nor something along the lines of the elegant depiction of animal life in last year’s beautiful Gunda (DocPoint 2021). Instead, Arnold’s goal seems to be to show the life of a production animal without embellishment, to take us as close to the cow’s own point of view as possible, into her bizarre world.
The camera takes us near Luma, usually to her eye level. The human world is sidelined, pushed to the edges of the images. Quickly, the human characters of the film become indistinguishable from one another, like an anonymous mass that controls Luma’s life, guiding the cow from one constrained space to another.
The direct approach brings forth the film’s sociopolitical point of view, linking it to Arnold’s previous works: like the main characters of Fish Tank and American Honey, Luma lives on the edges of capitalist society, unable to separate her identity from it. Luma is treated by society as a source of product, valued only for what she provides to keep the wheels of capitalism in motion. In order to survive in the world, Luma must fulfill this duty.
Through the experiences of one animal, the film grows into a story of something much larger. As Arnold herself put it, when she looks at Luma, she can see the entire world.
Cow will only be shown in Bio Rex on Saturday, Feb 5. Find more information about ticket sales to the cinema screenings here.