Luma has only just given birth, and the amniotic sac is still dangling between the cow’s legs. But there she goes, into the milking machine again. Meanwhile, out of Luma’s sight, the farmer feeds her young calf from a bottle.
Like Gunda (2020), Victor Kossakovsky’s documentary about pigs, Cow makes a statement without making a statement. In this, her first documentary, Andrea Arnold, whose feature films include American Honey (2016), simply chronicles events. She presents the life of a dairy cow: a succession of inseminations, births, milkings, and so on. At times the camera gets up so close that it looks like Luma is going to trample the camera operator underfoot.
The resulting film is intensely moving. Here, it’s not the individual human that’s the villain, but the system. Arnold foregrounds the fact that this “object” being channeled through a numbing routine is a living being—a being who lovingly licks clean her newborn calves, who is tenderly nuzzled by a bull, who can enjoy the sunset from her pasture. A being who can look at you through the lens and make contact. Her eyes are unforgettable.