Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 26, 2023 12:39 pm 
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A well-crafted mix of magical realism and ego-catastrophe that may sometimes strain the patience of non-vegans

This "assured first feature" ( BFI) from Chile begins with a true event: debris from a puLp and paper factory ruins the Cruces river, killing off the fish and polluting it. The opening of this film shows the luscious but damaged environment and the fish singing a song of lament. What's even less natural is a woman emerging from the polluted water in a bullet-helmeted biker outfit: the fish song was partly about her. She is Magdalena (Mía Maestro), a lady who committed suicide many years go, jumping into hhe river tied to her motorcycle. Now she is returning - perhaps to fix things? But more goes wrong in this surreal eco fantasy about man's mistreatment of the environment and the animals and each other, the latter seen in the family of the lady returned from the dead. This is a compelling vision. But I never quite made sense of it. Even if the filmmakers knew what thew ere doing, I didn't.

Magdalena's reappearance so shocks her widower husband Enrique (great Pablo Larraín star Alfredo Castro, a bit wasted here) that he collapses, the response taken at first for a heart attack. His surgeon daughter Cecilia (Leonor Varela) takes him out to the family dairy farm to keep an eye on him while he recovers. Cecilia is a bossy type, as evidenced by her flat refusal to recognize the need of her son Tomás (compellingly played by singer Enzo Ferrada Rosati) to self-identify femme while under her roof. The resurgent (revenant? ghost?) wife/mom Magdalena is now around, but not talking - till when her grandson encounters her and communicates via the synthesized speaking voice of his iPhone, a device new to her. Also present now briefly is the long-gone abuela, my favorite character (though I can't find her in the credits).

A child questions the dairy farm's basics: fertilizing cows, then removing their babies so their milk can be collected and sold. Without that, the father points out, they would go bankrupt. As Joseph Tomastik dramatically expresses it in [url=""]Loud and Clear[/url] eventually enough hints have been provided in Alegría's film to see that "this family has been rotting from the inside out due to subtle inhumane cruelty." The implication here is also that the world is out of joint. Humans have been misusing it to their own ends. The depleted wildlife and polluted water shown here are only hints of the beginning of wholesale collapse sweeping the planet. In the event some of the dysfunctionality of this family may come off as relatively minor, conventional indie stuff din comparison with "all that."

Ceclia is a sceptic, but at the farm a change comes over her, especially when she exchanges significant looks with a cow walking out at night. As Jonathan Holland says in his [url=""]Screen Daily review[/url], it's "testament" to the filmmaker's skill that this "potentially ridiculous moment" doesn't "come off as silly at all." That's debatable; but the screenplay by Alegría with Fernanda Urrejola and Manuela Infante carries conviction, and the cinematography by Inti Briones and score by Pierre Desprats are first-rate. It's not enough to make me like this kind of film or fully make sense out of it, but its texture is interesting enough to make this "murkily atmospheric debut," as Wendy Ide called in the [url=""]Guardian,[/url] consistently watchable - through much,if not all, of its run-time.

The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future/La vaca que cantó una canción hacia el futuro, 98 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2022. It opens May 19 at Quad Cinema in New York, then May 26 at the Landmark Nuart in Los Angeles, followed by national expansion.

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