SHU Film Soc Reviews: Cow + Q&A with Andrea Arnold

“The film is an endeavour to consider cows. To move us closer to them. To see their beauty and the challenge of their lives. When I look at Luma, our cow, I see the whole world in her.”

This month Andrea Arnold returned to cinemas with her first ever documentary, Cow: the humbling story of Luma the dairy cow. We follow her throughout every aspect of her life as a farm animal, from childbirth to milking to breeding.

The film is most of all a natural look into the world of a cow, coming as close as we can to seeing through Luma’s eyes as we witness this confusing world from her level. The fact they are given only Luma’s perspective allows the audience to experience the emotionally turbulent world of farmed cattle. It begs the audience to question its relationship with meat, animals, and nature.

On the 16th the Showroom Cinema welcomed Andrea Arnold to do a Q&A about Cow. Not only was she a delight to listen to and meet afterwards, but her words provided further insight to the film.

According to Arnold, the mission statement of Cow is to bridge the gap between us and cows. She hopes that this film changes the way we see animals in the same way that making this film changed how she sees animals.

In the same way, she told us how over the four years they spent filming, Luma seemed to see them differently. At the start of the documentary Luma is wary, whereas at the end she exhibits trust and warmth towards the film crew.  

While it is difficult to imagine anyone walking out of Cow without considering veganism, Arnold told us that she did not want her film to be biased. As with her other works, in Cow she tries to present something as plainly as possible so that people can interpret the events as they wish.  

Arnold also told the Q&A audience that she never wanted to use Cow to judge anyone’s morality. This documentary simply allows a relationship to develop between Luma and the viewer. Its primary aim is to inform us that we are all part of a complex system, from the farmers working directly with livestock to an audience member who regularly eats meat.  

One of the most notable features of Cow is the use of sound. Most apparent is the lack of ‘traditional’ dialogue. The only time we hear any speech is when it is overheard from the farmers while they work.  

No one ever explains what is happening. They’re just going about their lives. In the same way that Luma doesn’t fully understand what is happening, neither does the audience. Because of this, the focus is shifted to the sounds of cows shuffling, chewing, and mooing. Adding to the audience’s experience of sharing Luma’s perspective is the music; only heard as Luma is being milked. Arnold explained that this was because the milking hall contained a radio tuned to Radio One.  

Whether you’re vegan or not, Cow will no doubt prove a humbling and beautiful film to experience. It shines a light on the dairy industry with no deliberate bias. You should go in with an open mind, ready to connect with something that is a big part of everyone’s life but rarely given enough thought. 

Written by Séan O'Reilly, Vice President of the Sheffield Hallam University Film Society.


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