The Cow Who Sang A Song Into The Future


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Cow Who Sang A Song Into The Future
"The Cow Who Sang A Song Into The Future emerges as part of a growing body of work which is striving to address desperation with imagination, to find new ways to be." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Those who fit easily into their environment often go unnoticed. The speckled fish swimming along the course of the river are well camouflaged against its stony bottom. We notice them only because of their movement and their song. It’s a song about love for the river, which has always sheltered them, but also about their fear that there is something unfamiliar in the water, some harbinger of death. This, it will emerge, is a toxic chemical, run-off from nearby industry which poisons their water, so that they wash up along the shore in large numbers. As the environment and its inhabitants cease to fit together, everything goes awry.

This is when Magdalena (Mía Maestro) emerges from the water, still wearing her motorcycle helmet and leathers, gasping for breath. Though we might t first think that she has escaped a fresh accident, we soon learn that she went into the water, tied to her bike, many years ago. Her death was ruled a suicide, but when she returns to her family home, her husband’s reaction gives us reason to suspect something else. Naturally, readjusting to her presence is difficult for all her family members, especially her daughter Ceci (Leonor Varela), who struggled to connect with her when she was alive. As Ceci experiences a psychological crisis, an intense bond gradually develops between Magdalena and Ceci’s child, Tomás, who is struggling with the pressure of being expected to live as a boy.

A magical realist fable enhanced by stunning images of the natural world, Francisca Alegria’s film explores motherhood, femininity, and the necessity of change in a world where what has been taken for granted for centuries no longer holds sway. Tomás longing to express a feminine interior parallels Magdalena’s longing for life, and both, ultimately, exist as who they are in spite of the difficulties which others have in accepting them. The traditions which might once have provided Ceci with security now leave her flailing, ill-equipped to deal with her new reality.

As promised by the title, there is a singing cow here – more than one, in fact. Perhaps every animal would reveal a voice if we listened closely. The cows understand motherhood. most importantly, they understand what it means when such a bond is broken, having had their own children taken away. In effect, their traditions, their history of suffering, become an advantage in seeking to understand the greater crisis. Meanwhile, birds watch Ceci, clustered on roofs and in trees, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s feathered friends. Is this an omen of doom or are they simply curious about this stranger whose child is preparing to leave a nest which she has never learned to fly from herself?

The family drama unfolds against a backdrop of environmentalist protests which remind us that the poisoning of the river is just one aspect of a much bigger ecological catastrophe. Magdalena, silent for the first half of the film, might be some zombie product of degradation, but the clarity which she goes on to express, simple and animal, makes her seem more like a saint. These are strange times and something different, something outside normality is needed. The Cow Who Sang A Song Into The Future emerges as part of a growing body of work which is striving to address desperation with imagination, to find new ways to be. Throughout the film there is a focus on the need for healing, for reconnection with each other, and for the restoration of life. Alegria’s work is melancholy and wistful yet never loses its sense of urgency nor its awareness of the potential for change.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2023
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Cecilia and her children travel to her ageing father’s dairy farm after he has a heart attack. Back in her childhood home, Cecilia is met by her mother, a woman dead for many years, whose presence brings to life a painful past chorused by the natural world around them.
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Director: Francisca Alegria

Writer: Francisca Alegria, Manuela Infante

Starring: Leonor Varela, Mía Maestro, Alfredo Castro, Luis Dubó, Marcial Tagle, Laura Del Rio Rios, Enzo Ferrada Rosati

Year: 2022

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Germany, France, US, Chile

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