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Review: The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future – “A thoughtful, beautifully shot drama”

With a catchy name and absorbing subject matter, The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future was always going to be an intriguing film. Director Francisca Alegria centres her fable on mysterious events, bringing together varied subjects like the human relationship with livestock, the silent suffering of mental illness and the stifling yet loving nature of family ties. This is a thoughtful, beautifully shot drama, both melancholic and hopeful.

The film starts with Magdalena (Mia Maestro) surfacing in a river wearing a bike helmet. Believed dead for years (by suicide) Magdalena’s return to her family farm coincides with scores of dead fish being washed ashore from the same Chilean rivers she died in. Magdalena’s family and their animals find her reappearance difficult to navigate as it stirs up long-buried emotions.

From the opening credits, The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future projects a magical quality. Maestro plays Magdalena with scant language and odd tics, so the viewer is never quite sure of what they’re seeing. Magdalena’s daughter Cecilia (Leonor Varela) is the most affected by her mother’s return and Alegria is keen to delve into Cecilia’s anger and fear, especially with the characters being a similar age and both mothers. There’s also an interesting subplot involving Magdalena’s teenage grandson Tom├ís (Enzo Ferrada), whose free, hedonistic pursuits suddenly intersect with that of his grandmother. Strong feelings and bouts of depression run through the family’s story as Magdalena’s presence starts to unmoor the family’s fragile stability.

This film plays with magical realism, showing birds ominously congregating on rooftops and cattle dashing into lakes. And many scenes take place at night, giving an apparitional wash to Magdalena’s return. The hauntingly pretty music and religious overtones create a slow rural meditation. However, the film blends these fable-like images with jarring modernity like mobile phone tracking apps and the stark naturalism of farming life. Alegria seems keen to show precisely how cow-milking machines work or look at dead-eyed decaying fish.

Like Andrea Arnold’s 2021 documentary Cow, The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is a fine addition to a new canon of films made by female filmmakers who wish to highlight animal trauma with reverence. And yet this film is just as much a profound study of human grief and belonging. An intriguing, novel work.

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