Andrea Arnold Directed A-Listers. The Last Star? This Cow

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CANNES, France – Andrea Arnold waved his hands in front of his face, trying to keep his cool. “I’m a little pathetic today, I’m sorry,” said the British director in tears.

Arnold didn’t expect to cry during our interview, just as I wasn’t expecting to be this impressed by his new movie, “The Cow,” which was released for the first time. Cannes Film Festival This week. At first glance, “Cow” doesn’t sound bad at all: It describes the daily life of Luma, a cow on a dairy farm. She bellows, milks, mates and gives birth.

But maybe these black-and-white patterns on a cow’s hide are a kind of Rorschach stain, because as I watched Luma lick her newborn calf or endure the disgrace of a milking machine, I started thinking about all sorts of heavyweight concepts: love, nature, dehumanization, and death. . Arnold lets his camera linger for a while, and as you gaze into Luma’s huge eyes, you may begin to wonder if it’s the cow you know or something inside yourself.

Formerly known for directing “American Honey” and Second season of “Big Little Lies” Arnold, 60, welcomed the change in pace that “Cow” provided, and filming (filmed on a farm just outside of London) took years. Arnold told me that he had wanted to make a documentary about an animal for a long time, but was unprepared for the cinematic and emotional bond he had formed with his star.

Here are edited excerpts from our talk.

Did you always know that you want a cow as your subject?

Of course I thought of all animals and I thought of a chicken because chickens usually live about 90 days and have amazing personalities. But for some reason I kept coming back to the cow. Dairy cows work so hard and have such a busy life that I thought it would be interesting to look at.

How much experience have you had with cows before?

I met my first nerdy version when I was 18. I was with a boyfriend walking in the country and we walked through a field of cows and they all came and sat around me. I really remember it vividly because I was surprised at how big and gentle they were. In fact, they were all licking me.

Really? were you extending your hand?

The natural thing I did to not look threatening was I sat down and I think they were like, “Who are you? What you?” They have huge tongues and they were licking my clothes and hands. It had a profound effect on me at that moment.

So what’s the first step after you decide you’re going to be a nerd? How do you publish such a documentary subject?

I wasn’t sure if we needed a cow you could pick from the crowd. Luma had a very distinctive white head, with this kind of black eyeliner around her eyes. It has also been described as having an attitude, and I loved the sound of that. All the people who look at the cows I’ve talked to say they have quite different personalities.

You can sense this personality, but I couldn’t help wondering if it was part of the empathy and reflection that is created when watching a movie. While observing Luma on the ground, could you sense that personality as well?

Very much. I was telling someone the other day that I found it very moving, and he… [Arnold pauses, tearing up.] I almost can’t tell. I find it moving now, I’m telling you. Several times, I burst into tears over this.

What did he do that you found so moving?

I always said early on, if nerds are camera aware, let’s be honest. We cannot pretend we are not there, and our presence will affect the way he behaves. Sometimes he got a little angry with us and headbutted the camera but over time I felt like he was really being seen. I don’t know if I’m right, but it’s such a deep feeling because it was all about seeing him.

Some of the looks he gave us while I was there, I thought, “He’s really looking at me and I’m really looking at him and we’re seeing each other.” She obviously doesn’t know what it is that attracts her, but she could definitely sense that we were focusing on her. I think he felt the look. While editing, I kept feeling like “I see you Lu, I see you”.

It must be an interesting thing to return to this between projects.

And in the middle of that I did “Big Little Lies”.

It’s a very different production.

Very different. This was a project that came from the right place for me, so coming back to it was always a touchstone.

Does the farm let you know when something important happens with Luma?

We’ve always been in touch because that’s their life: What they do is have calves and make milk, and it’s incredibly difficult. They start really early and work hard on the farm and they do it every day. I would be absolutely exhausted and filled with admiration for them by the end.

And it got me thinking about our own lives, too.

I get so many reactions from people that it’s really interesting. Actually I was hoping for that. I’m stopped in the street and people tell me very interesting take on how they found it and what it does for them.

What do they call you?

All kinds of things. Some think it’s really feminist, some think it’s about being cast aside, some think it’s about systems. In fact, I quite enjoy hearing people take on things.

As the producer of this movie, what surprised you about the last movie you made?

I hadn’t seen him on the big screen and it was like seeing him again. I guess what I found surprising was that I thought, “God, this is so hard.” And I’m used to it! I know the story and I’m very realistic about their life and how it happened and… [She tears up again.] This is so weird! Talking about it really affects me.

I never wanted to explain this movie, I just wanted to show it and let people have their own experience. I knew I was brave but I’m not intentionally being brave, I’m just trying to do something pure. I really wanted to know if you followed him long enough, would you hook up to him and see him? I feel like in the world, we don’t see each other. We do not see other living things.

Not this way.

Not this way. If we could, maybe then things would be different.

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