The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future is an effectively soft plea for human decency and healing, even if the pacing and focus sag along the way.
With the plethora of seemingly straightforward dramatic work on offer for the Nashville Film Festival, I was looking for something with a bit more of a strange or supernatural touch. And The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future has exactly that: a supernatural touch in an otherwise grounded drama. The film opens on Magdalena (Mía Maestro), a woman who was believed to be dead by suicide years ago, emerging from a polluted river littered with dead fish. Though she can’t speak, she comes across her husband (Alfredo Castro), which gets the attention of her daughter Cecilia (Leonor Varela). Her presence causes stirs among the family and their environments, including their dairy farm, unveiling a bitter past and giving Magdalena the chance to guide them to a better future.
The supernatural vibe doesn’t just lie in the fact that a dead woman comes back to life, but in the fittingly ghostly atmosphere that director Francisca Alegría brings to the film. Many locations have a very heightened aura thanks to cinematographer Inti Briones’s lighting and framing, especially during the nighttime sequences. Even though almost everything that happens in the film is realistic, you always feel like something from a higher realm has permeated into the world you’re watching. Even the characters themselves feel this, which leads The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future to study the ins and outs of a family and expose their tainted past and present.
Cecilia’s son (Enzo Ferrada) is made instantly-sympathetic when you’re introduced to a certain aspect of him and how his family treats it. The adult men in the family reveal corrupt and even abusive natures that range from blatant to scarily well-hidden. And we eventually learn what led to Magdalena’s death in the first place, which we later also find out has been dangerously close to repeating itself with another character. Not every detail is revealed to us, but enough is told and demonstrated that we can easily fill in the gaps, and you see that this family has been rotting from the inside out due to subtle inhumane cruelty. Much like the ecosystem in which all of those fish at the beginning died, or the increasingly cold management of the family’s dairy farm that’s putting profits and efficiency above the wellness of their cows. This is where the symbolic nature of the titular cow comes in, a peaceful animal whose kind is quietly suffering throughout the film.
The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future is a soft plea for human decency and healing, bound together by past mistakes literally haunting these characters. Mía Maestro has no dialogue throughout the film, but her performance ensures that you don’t need any to feel and understand the confusion, hurt, and longing for her loved ones to end up in a better place than she ultimately did. Leonor Varela and Enzo Ferrada are the other two standouts for their vulnerability, Ferrada’s especially for how quietly potent it is.
What doesn’t work as well in The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future is its pacing. Each scene on its own progresses well enough, but a handful of scenes don’t add anything to the emotions or our understanding of anyone. They make The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future feel like an extended cut instead of the final version, even though the run time is just over an hour and a half. As the film nears its final stretch, this problem fades out and the focus is fine-tuned, but it takes longer than necessary for us to feel like we really know anybody. It doesn’t feel like the intention was to slowly and meticulously reveal these characters’ stories (even if that was indeed the intention), more like the film is meandering when it doesn’t know how to move forward.
Still, The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future succeeds largely thanks to its gentle yet urgent themes of pain and healing, the performances, and the creeping spiritual aura that dominates a majority of the frames. Many viewers will likely find themselves getting antsy in the middle, even if they know this is a slower drama. But I encourage them to stay with it, as the payoff makes everything overall worth it. It would have been ideal for the entire film to be as good as its best aspects, but the idea is great and the execution is heartfelt and memorable enough to get a recommendation out of me.
The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future premiered at the Nashville Film Festival on October 2, 2022 and will be released in selected UK cinemas on March 24 and in US theaters on May 19, 2023.