MUBI Podcast

In Andrea Arnold’s COW, Audiences Find Themselves

February 10, 2022 MUBI
MUBI Podcast
In Andrea Arnold’s COW, Audiences Find Themselves
Show Notes Transcript

The MUBI Podcast returns this week with a special episode. Host Rico Gagliano speaks with Oscar-winning filmmaker Andrea Arnold (AMERICAN HONEY, FISH TANK) about COW — her gripping debut documentary chronicling the life of a single dairy cow.

In the interview, Arnold opens up about the deeply personal interpretations audiences have brought to the nearly dialogue-free film, and how making it has affected her own interactions with creatures great and small.

Fresh off receiving a BAFTA nomination for “Best Documentary”,  COW is now showing in select UK cinemas and will be exclusively streaming on MUBI starting February 11th in many countries, including the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Italy, India, Latin America & more. MUBI is also featuring a series of Arnold's shorts, including the Oscar-winning WASP. IFC Films is the film's US distributor and has plans for an April theatrical release. MUBI's series will be timed in the US with this April release. 

If available in your country, you can stream the film exclusively on MUBI here and the series here

Subscribe to stay tuned for more bonus episodes and Season 2.

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[Sting of strings] [Andrea Arnold] When I'm making a film, we would, now and again, go and watch edits on the big screen. because then you understand a bit more about what the images are doing. I think, I can't remember who said, a filmmaker said, "A look in the eye can start a war." So that's the kind of thing you need to be aware of is that sometimes those huge images convey way more than you realize. So you do need to check on the big screen. [Rico Gagliano] You don't always mean to start a war. [Andrea] Yeah! Yes... Actually I mean, to start loads of wars, really, to be honest. But... it's all about starting wars in my book. [Rico] That is UK filmmaker Andrea Arnold. And yeah, if you've seen her movies, you know they and her characters... don't shy from a fight. In 2005, she won an Oscar for Wasp, a short about a destitute single mom trying to raise kids and have a love life. [Woman 1] Look, Bullet-head's in there. If she sees you, she'll fucking turn us and you'll get taken away from me. Do you understand? [Rico] Her epic American honey was the story of a teenage girl who escapes abuse to sell magazines across late stage capitalism America. [Woman 2] I don't need you to fight my battles. [Man 1] I'm not fighting, actually I was doing a service, if you think about it. [Woman 2] Yeah, you were. [Man 1] Yeah. For you. You need me. [Woman 2] I can do this shit by myself, I don't need you. [Rico] That won the Jury Prize at Cannes. And her new movie is about the struggles of a very different female hero: A dairy cow. I'm Rico Galliano, and after a long hiatus, it is so great to welcome you back to the MUBI podcast. MUBI is the best place to stream beautiful, hand-picked cinema. On this show we tell you great stories about beautiful cinema. We are hard at work on season two of the show. Today, though the first of a few special episodes to tide you over, you're going to hear my interview with Andrea Arnold. Her amazing new documentary is called Cow. It's coming exclusively to MUBI in many countries, and it focuses on, yes, a dairy cow named Luma. Starting with the birth of one of her calves and following her through years of her life. There is no voiceover. You only get glimpses of humans and snatches of what they say. And for me, it is pure, immersive cinema. The other week, I got the chance to speak with her about it. Andrea Arnold, I'm honored to have you. [Andrea] Ok. [Rico] You've said that you wanted to make a film about an animal for a long time. Why? [Andrea] I guess this film has been with me for a really long time in terms of kind of, coming from a deep place, I think. And I think it's to do with my relationship with nature, which has been a sort of fairly intense one since I was a kid. And I did some research some years ago about farm animals for a completely different project. And from then on, I kind of used to think about them a lot. and this sort of notion as to whether they were sentient or not. So I guess Cow is a sort of endeavor to watch another, you know, another non-human consciousness and to look for its' sentience. [Rico] It works, I absolutely found its' sentience and I'm not alone, I think, and remarking that I found myself very moved by watching this cow, surprisingly quickly, within just a few minutes of the movie, I found myself just deeply relating. And I'd like to know how you came to choose what those opening minutes would be so that I would be put in that position. [Andrea] I mean, I when we started the film, I always had this idea we would go from consciousness to unconsciousness, so we would... When I first thought of the idea, I actually wanted to see a whole life. And then that became kind of not possible because cows live for 15 years and nobody was going to give me money to film a cow for 15 years. So I had to find another way, and so I decided I would film a cow and a calf so that I could start with birth. Starting with a birth is a very strong way to start. [Rico] Why do you think that is? I mean, it feels right to me. [Andrea] I guess the dairy cows existence is all around them giving birth Without giving birth. There is no milk. So their whole existence is dependent on them giving birth. So for me, it was always very clear that it had to start with the birth. Also, it's the beginning of life, so it's very powerful in all kinds of ways. But for the dairy cow, they, without giving birth, they have no existence because if they don't give birth, don't give milk, they're sent to the slaughterhouse. So getting pregnant, giving birth, giving milk it's... they had lived this maternal existence for all of their lives. And as soon as that stops, then they are sent to the slaughterhouse. So it's very much part of what a dairy cows life is. [Rico] It does make me think because you shot this for many years, right? How many years did you shoot? [Andrea] Well, we shot for four years, but the actual idea I had the idea and got the funding for about nine years ago. [Rico] It sounds like you had some idea of the map of the story, such as it is. How much of that panned out? How much did you know going in you were going to get, and how much that was sort of winged? [Andrea] Well, I think with any documentary and you start something I know, I didn't really know what was going to be revealed. I had the notion that if we followed her around that we would get to know her, and that would be interesting. But I didn't know what her future would be, and I didn't know, you know, details of kind of the industry and the things that went on. I mean, I understood some of it, but not obviously seeing it in detail like I did. So I think I went in with a very open mind and heart to see what happened. [Rico] What was the most surprising thing that happened that you just absolutely didn't expect? [Andrea] Um... I guess the thing I didn't expect... Or the thing that I found fascinating was that by the end of the filming, I think Luma... they say, I was reading a book the other day that said that when animals look at humans, they look warily. I mean, maybe not your dog, but you know, other animals, farm animals, wild animals. They will view humans warily. And by the time we finished filming with Luma, I feel like we were seeing something different in her look to us, like the way she was looking at us. I felt that she felt seen by us. Things change not so much in a relationship, but just how she felt about being seen. It was like she sort of felt the look, and I found that fascinating because I wondered what that actually meant. And I wondered, did that mean... Did she feel her existence more because she felt seen? I wonder what that actually meant for her. [Rico] Obviously, that's clearly the case for humans. If you pay attention to me. I pay attention to you. [Andrea] There's more than that, really, because we sort of pay attention to each other. But do we really hear? And do we really see is very interesting. Like, she's taught me a lesson in that way. So I try very hard now when I'm with people to really be with them, be in that moment and to hear what they're saying. [Rico] You seriously got that from this experience, from with this cow? [Andrea] I think probably not entirely, but more so. I'm more aware of it. And I'm... And it's like my dog, for example. I look at my dog really differently since I made the film with Luma. I look at her eyes and I wonder how she's feeling, and can I see if she's looking upset or like... When I tune in with her and I sort of look at her, I sort of now feel I can see sort of minutiae of things. I look at her more closely. I mean, you know, I don't remember to do this all the time with everybody and everything, but I think it's interesting to explore. [Rico] This actually brings to mind a shot that's very early in the film. where you linger on the shot of Luma the cow from some distance away, and she's just staring right into the camera and you stare back at her. Are you kind of like trying to put us in that mindset for a minute? Just look at this. Look at this being. [Andrea] That particular moment was very striking to me because she just had her calf, and she gets taken out of the pen with the calf. [Man 2] Stop! [Shushing] [Whistling] [Cow mooing] [Andrea] She's been separated from the calf, and you don't, you don't know. I don't think she knows whether she's going to see the calf or not again. [Shuffling] And she's in a different pen, and she just looks she just looked at us, and she mooed... [Cow mooing] for a really long time. [Cow mooing] And it was very striking for me, I don't know quite what she's doing or thinking. [Cow mooing] But it felt like she was definitely expressing herself. And I was very, I was very moved by her in that moment. So that's why I included it. [Rico] Yeah, she mooed. That moo feels to me almost like, you can't tell if it's rage... [Agitated moo] or "Help me", but it is this moment where it's like you're almost asking us right away to, like, start trying to figure it out. [Andrea] I mean, I didn't. I was just trying to show you all the moments that I kind of thought were important or striking, or... I mean, we can't get inside her head. And I never tried to get inside her head. All I did was try to show you her reaction to her world and for you to make up your own mind about what you think she might be feeling or thinking. And I think that's very distinctly one of those moments where you have all sorts of ideas about what she might be feeling. [Rico] To that point, you've mentioned several things, you know, this cow that's basically raised to give birth. You've talked about a cow that's raised to give milk. A cow that's got her baby taken away from her. It was very easy for me to sort of impose feminist readings onto this. And I'm wondering, less for you to confirm or deny that,

but more to ask you:

Is there a universality of reaction that you're getting? From a movie that has no narration and has no dialogue? Are there still universal things that everybody gets out of this? [Andrea] I get, I get a series of reactions from people and they vary. But there are some universal things. one is the feminine side it, mothers and children. That's definitely... I hear that about, people respond in a way that they think about their relationship with their mothers or their lack of relationship with mothers. I've had people say that it makes them think of... An American friend said it made her think of how her body, like in America, it's becoming, her body's becoming not her own. I've had people talk about a sort of incarceration. Lack of freedom. Loneliness. [Rico] Is there, are there any reactions that surprise you that you didn't necessarily see in the film until someone brought it up? [Andrea] I've had some reactions, I think. I think what happens is because there is no narration and because there's room for mulling over things as you're watching, people find their own things within it. And that's happened a lot. So there have been some kind of slightly off to the side sort of reactions as well, but I think that's more to do with the people than it is to do with the film. [Rico] Can you think of any of those that were kind of unusual. [Andrea] You know what, they're so personal to the people I would feel bad about relaying them because they would probably recognize themselves, and I wouldn't want to do that. [Rico] Fair enough. And I guess really, the details don't matter because your point is made, right? People watch this cow and they recognize themselves. [Andrea] Oh, yeah, yeah. [Rico] Yeah, I saw Cow like I think a lot of advance viewers did. I got a digital screener copy. I ended up watching it on my laptop, which is smaller than a legal pad. [Andrea] Right. [Rico] And it was still obviously a pretty emotional experience. But I was thinking about the impact it must have on a big screen because it really does plunge you into a world. When did you first see it in a theater? [Andrea] I didn't see the finished thing on the big screen until it was at Cannes. That was my first like audience big screen experience. [Rico] So what was that like? I mean, I've been to that theater in Cannes, and it's huge, first of all, and the screen is gigantic. The sound is amazing. [Andrea] Yeah. [Rico] What was the experience like for you? [Andrea] It was intense. I mean, it's an intense experience watching your work. It's like you unzip yourself and put your soul on the screen for everyone to see. It's a very intense experience to share something that is very personal to... I don't know how many people are in that cinema, but a lot. I mean, I got a bit too much in my head watching it. I didn't... I don't think I've really watched it properly because it was too big an experience. I think I was sitting next to the producer and she could feel me squirming. And I mean, you want to leave, really, actually, you want to get out. I wanted to get out at the end. [Rico] Why is that? [Andrea] I mean, I know, I knew that I did my utmost to make that film with, you know, as much love as I could manage. So I'd feel like I did the making of it as best I could. So at some point once you've done that, you're handing it over. You are kind of, you know, you're letting go in a way. And so that kind of experience is about letting go. And that's quite a hard thing to do. [String motif] [Rico] Andrea Arnold. Cow just got a best documentary nomination for this year's BAFTA Awards. The movie is out now in select UK cinemas. Starting February 11 in many countries, it will stream exclusively on MUBI. where you'll also find a series of her shorts, including her Oscar winning Wasp. Check the show notes of this episode for details of where you can watch. And that is our special episode of the MUBI podcast this week. There are more to come. Leading up to April when we'll drop our full season two, which, by the way, will feature great stories about experiences that were only possible in movie theaters. You know, like watching your own movie on the big screen at Cannes. You can follow us wherever you get your podcasts or you might miss it. And then what kind of movie buff can you call yourself, really? While you're at it, please leave us a five star review wherever you listen. It helps others find and love us. We would love to hear your questions, comments or what you think of Cow once you see it. Email us at This episode was hosted, written and cut by me Rico Gagliano. Martin Austwick composed our opening theme. Yuri Suzuki composed our outro music. Thanks this time to David Harper, and Julia Nowicka, the show's executive produced by me, along with Jon Barrenechea, Efe Cakarel, Daniel Kasman, and Michael Tacca for MUBI. Thanks for listening! Be safe! Watch movies. [String motif plays out]