Focus on female filmmakers: Andrea Arnold on Cow | Interviews
After debuting at the Cannes Film Festival last year, “Cow” finally opens in select theaters and on demand this Friday, April 8. RogerEbert.com spoke to Arnold on Zoom about the origins of the documentary, the role humans play in nature, and the deep feeling of being seen by a film.
How did you first meet Luma and decide to make this documentary about this particular cow?
Once I decided that we were going to make a film about a cow, because I didn’t know what animal we would make. At first I thought of a pig. I thought of a chicken; the life of chickens in factory farms is about 90 days. So I thought it would be a short shoot, in terms of shooting, and they’re very characterful chickens. So I thought that would be pretty good. But then I thought of dairy cows. It was also very powerful because of the whole feminine aspect. I thought it added another layer of something really interesting. Once I decided on that, I realized it was connected to everything else I had done. You think all your decisions are new and unconscious, but in reality you are just doing the same things. We opted for the dairy cow and then we had to find a farm near London, because we had to go back and forth a lot. There were only a certain number of farms that fit the bill.
Then we found the farm and I asked them about their cows. We were looking for a pregnant cow, because I wanted to start with a calving. They mentioned Luma, I think quite early on, and said she was a very feisty cow. I loved the idea of this because I thought it meant she would definitely have some personality. I thought it was an interesting situation to have a cow face. Also, because their lives are so well managed, I became fascinated with all the doors and the locks on the doors on this side and the alleys on this side, and the fences. Because their lives are fully managed, the idea that there was a feisty cow in this managed situation appealed to me. She had this very beautiful head, this white head with a bit of eyeliner. For me, it was just a beautiful cow. His head was visually very prominent, so we could see it easily. So her looks and personality got the job, basically.
You mentioned how similar the film is to your previous work. When I was watching it and reading in the press notes about Luma’s constant childbirth and milking, it made me think of your short film “Milk”, and the heartache that this mother went through. Could you elaborate a bit on the themes that, in your opinion, are found in all your films?
It’s quite difficult, because it’s quite personal. Interestingly, I think when I’m doing something sometimes I don’t know where I’m coming from and then it becomes obvious and you go oh, okay. So in a way, what I told you earlier about the dairy cow and everything is definitely related to “milk”, I think for sure. Mothers and babies. But I find it really difficult to talk about it in a broader way, actually. You will need to make the connections.