Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Movie Review: ‘The Cow Who Sang A Song Into The Future’ is a Surreal Voyage Into the Past and the Future

Director: Francisca Alegría

Writers: Francisca Alegría, Manuela Infante, and Fernanda Urrejola

Stars: Leonor Varela, Mía Maestro, Alfredo Castro, Marcial Tagle

Synopsis: It begins at a river in the south of Chile where fish are dying due to pollution from a nearby factory. Amid their floating bodies, long-deceased Magdalena bubbles up to the surface gasping for air, bringing with her old wounds and a wave of family secrets.

One woman emerges from a river and wanders around a Chilean town. She has a strange aura and everything around her starts malfunctioning, but she is too enamored with what she sees to register that she should not be there. When her elderly husband sees her from across the room – as the way she was when she died years ago – havoc ensues and the drama at the center of The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future starts.

The film, the debut of Chilean filmmaker Francisca Alegría, is hard to define, mixing a family drama marked by unsaid secrets, resentments, and fears, with an environmental message, flavored by singing cows (giving honor to its inventive title) and passionate dances that convey things that cannot be said. While it is difficult to label the film, it is easy to admire its singularity and abstraction.

The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future starts with the return of Magdalena (Mia Maestro) from the dead, resurfacing years after her passing from a contaminated lake that has killed hundreds of fish. Her appearance brings a crisis in her now dysfunctional family. After this surreal event, and more concerned about her father’s health than her mother’s return, Cecilia (Leonor Varela), a successful doctor, comes back home accompanied by her two children, including her trans daughter, with whom she has a complicated relationship.

The reunion in the family home means an encounter with past resentments and unknown truths that only become more unbearable as Magdalena goes back to her familiar environment, more with curiosity and innocence than any sense of duty to her family. She is too engrossed in her own rediscovery of life to pay too much attention to the emotional turmoil she is creating on those closer to her that continued living with anger years ago.

Alegría, putting together multiple themes inside her surreal story, is not too interested in offering explanations or clear answers to her storylines. Instead, the movie advances within an aura of mystery, unresolved feelings, and uncertainty. No one really knows what is going on, but they still carry on trying to make sense of the present, let go of the past and find peace for the future. In this regard, the film unmasks the complexity of family secrets, long-gone memories that time has made blurry, and conflicted feelings that judge harshly those who are absent and mercifully those who “stayed.” In this weird and ethereal fable, the Latin American reality of marital issues and family ambiguity are painfully exposed, allowing for an emotional climax that is illustrated with hard-earned understanding and new opportunities with the young generations. Nevertheless, to get here the journey is complex, illustrated aptly by a script that is patient and caring with its flawed characters. The story is filled with emotional baggage, but it is ethereal in its offering of conclusions.

The film is a mix of contrasts: it is about the environment and its protection, but it is also about family trauma and its intimacy. It focuses on one family, but it shows a survival issue as universal as possible. It is about the past, but it focuses on the future. Its approach on family and conflict is traditional, but the struggles it addresses – environmentalism, identity and trans liberation – define our modern society. It has too many things going on, but even with its surrealism, it conveys the massive burden that shapes the existence of any person in today’s world with their multiple identities, struggles and tribulations.

At the center of the story, both Mia Maestro and Leonor Varela give heart-breaking and contrasting performances. The first, ghostly and out worldly, conveys everything with her eyes, mouth, and body, never using her voice, but acting as a saving figure who arrives when it is crucial. The second, taciturn and cold, goes through a whole transformation presented humbly in Varela’s eyes and demeanor.

The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future relies on abstraction and undefined ideas to convey its message. While a family drama lives at its heart, newcomer filmmaker Francisca Alegría is skilled enough to go beyond this intimacy and offer a message of environmentalism, acceptance, and curiosity for the wonders of this planet.

Grade: B

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