dir: Andrea Arnold
I think it’s kinda disingenuous to call this a documentary, but then I can’t think of what else you would call it. A woman called Magda Kowalczyk, the cinematographer, follows around a cow for about a year, from about the time she gives birth to one calf, and up to just after she gives birth to a second calf.
Of all that footage, the director Andrea Arnold in concert with 3 other editors, has fashioned a movie that aspires to give the viewer a sense of the experience of not what it’s like to work on a dairy farm in Kent, in England, but of what it’s like to be a cow on a dairy farm in Kent.
That’s a hard task to set oneself. There’s no voiceover, no narrator explaining to us what we’re seeing or what we should think about it. We overhear a bit of conversation between the vet and the workers on the farm about the cow, about how they’re recovering after the birth, that sort of stuff, but if we consider the cow herself to be the protagonist, we have to imagine what she’s thinking and feeling, because she’s not going to tell us.
This probably sounds quite dull. I actually found watching the film quite fascinating to watch. It seems like mighty hard work daily on a dairy farm, but the people working there, mostly young women, don’t seem to find it too onerous. It seems a bit hard on the cows, but we don’t see them being mishandled or mistreated.
We see the birth of the calf, from the beginning, a tremendously gross and sweet moment, where the mother licks the poor thing clean, until it can eventually walk enough to be separated from its mother. The mother moos quite loudly at the calf’s absence, or at the presence of the person with the camera in her stall, and we wonder (or at least I wondered) whether the mother feels the calf’s absence profoundly. She does seem quite upset.
Is that what we do? Do we project our thoughts and feelings onto these creatures, to try to make sense of their existence, but only in ways that are completely self-serving to us? I probably spent 90% of the movie doing exactly that and questioning it extensively.