How the udder half lives: Cannes moved by cow biopic

·2-min read
Andrea Arnold's film explores the secret lives of cows

Cannes on Friday got deep insights into the lives of bovines with a documentary starring Luma, a photogenic cow.

Shot over four years on an English farm, the film by Andrea Arnold -- whose work includes arthouse favourites "Fish Tank" and "Red Road" -- was cut from 200 hours of raw footage showing Luma's predictable routine but also highlights such as calving and sex.

"It's hard to make a film about a cow as a feature film that works for an audience," one of the three editors, Nicolas Chaudeurge, sighed at a news conference.

The 100-minute biopic does without commentary, with the only human voices those of the farmers -- who treat their "girls" with cheerful affection -- or of visiting vets.

Most sounds come from the cows themselves, such as Luma's angry moos delivered to camera when her new-born calf is taken away, or the incessant noise of licking, sucking and milking at the family-run dairy farm located close to the M25 motorway near London.

"We always see cows as herds, not individuals," Arnold told reporters. "I was looking for a cow with some character. This one you'd pick out in a crowd. She was a bit distinct looking, with the most beautiful wide head."

On one occasion Luma is mounted by a powerful black bull resulting in pregnancy and the birth of a jetblack calf, also shown in close detail.

It quickly becomes clear that the only reason for Luma to be alive is to produce milk and offspring. When she is no longer able to, she is efficiently, almost casually, disposed of.

But Arnold said she had no messages to impart, activist or otherwise.

"What I want is for you to have your response. I deliberately made it in a way that will give room for people to have all kinds of responses," she said, adding that she had been "fascinated" by early reactions from viewers at the Cannes festival.

"I think we all grow up with quite a romanticised version of nature, we have storybooks and fantastic paintings of lovely nature," Arnold said. "We're sort of frightened of the reality."

"Cow" is competing in the "Premiere" category of the Cannes festival.

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