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Cannes 2021: Val, Jane par Charlotte, Cow | Festivals & Awards

The film gets increasingly surreal, especially during a visit to Serge’s apartment that’s been preserved as if in amber. Jane wanders the place as if in a dream, smelling perfumes that have been bottled for decades and were blended specifically for her taste. It’s a mix of Graceland-shlock and almost sci-fi surrealism, where both mother and daughter occupy the space of a father/husband whose spirit continues to shape the two in ways both subtle and overt.

Jane’s personal tendency to hold on to objects of the past borders on psychosis by her own admission. In many ways the film serves as a kind of nostalgic hoarding, mixed with the kind of voyeurism that the two also admit to being drawn to. We see the adoption of puppies on the one hand and hear how both mother and daughter refuse to sleep in the nude while exposing themselves freely during their waking, working hours. It’s these contradictions that fascinate, and while “Jane par Charlotte” does little to provide an overview of Birkin’s life, it in many ways provides deeper insight than any biopic could have every possibly achieved.

Finally, there’s “Cow,” Andrea Arnold’s visit to a dairy farm that’s sure to gain fans willing to bend to the film’s repetitive style. Many will throw around terms like “experiential” to forgive the nausea-inducing camera work and general aimlessness of much of the documentary, one that easily could have accomplished much of the same without requiring such a numbingly redundant structure and tedious running time.

Audiences are clearly meant to empathize anthropomorphically with Luna, the central cow-acter in this drama. Humans are often offscreen interrupters in this drama that follows from birth to death, with the life literally milked out of the beast. Closeup shots of weepy eyes, unstable footing, and droopy udders wiped free from filth take up much of the film, while moments of roaming the fields contentedly munching are spare at best. When the cow kicks the camera resulting in a loud thump, I admit I felt a shared frustration with the compositional framing.

The film does not benefit for being released after “Gunda,” Viktor Kossakovsky’s far more ambitious and artistically resonant portrayal of similar modes of animal exploitation. Arnold can’t help but inject her own kind of musical score to manipulate further, using Radio One pop songs presented as if diegetic, making more overt the heavy-hoofed direction, despite the trappings of a supposedly pure act of documentary.

Framing the gaze upwards of a cow into a star-lit night is meant to make some think the animal is contemplating the infinite, but this has, of course, far more to do with our ability to empathize during our engagement with cinema than it has to do with the processes taking place within whatever constitutes the cow’s mode of contemplation. Seen in the land of exquisite dairy products, it all feels a bit cheesy. While “Cow” may indeed convert a few to veganism by opening their eyes to how both cows and milk are made, which may or may not be what constitutes the “point” of the project, others will justifiably snore their way through Arnold’s foray into non-fiction.

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