Hypnotic Chilean eco-fable The cow that sang a song to the future is cerebral
Magical realism responds to the real threat of environmental catastrophe in The cow that sang a song to the futuredebut feature by Chilean director Francisca Alegría after the success of her short film in 2017 And all of heaven fits in the eye of the dead cow. Although the film can at times seem endless – a difficult situation when transitioning from shorts to feature films – it is a heady and hypnotic parable for the irreparable ecological damage that humans have done, while insisting that it’s not too late to connect and reconcile with the earth that feeds us.
When toxic runoff from a cellulose factory begins to pollute the Cruces River in Chile’s verdant south-central, fish begin to die en masse. As their corpses float above the drifting water and begin to wash ashore, a haunting anthem seems to slip from their lifeless lips. “Come near us”, they sing in unison. “Is the end near? Just as their urgent melody ends, a woman named Magdalena (Mia Maestro) springs from the depths of the water, her long hair cascading over a leather jacket and her hand clutching a motorcycle helmet. She gasps for breath, crawling out of the river while spitting water. It turns out that she died in these same waters decades earlier – her death was ruled a suicide by local police – and has unfinished business with the family that grew and evolved during her extended absence. When she walks into an electronics store to appear before his future widow (Alfredo Castro), he immediately suffers an acute heart attack. Worried about her father’s hysterical insistence that her dead mother be returned from the grave, Cecelia (Leonor Varela) brings her two children to spend time with her on the family dairy farm while she cares for the aging patriarch. Little do they know, cows also have a song to sing, and Magdalena’s presence is more than an apparition of an old man.
Although the premise alludes to a horror movie, The cow that sang a song to the future never venture into supernatural revenge. Instead, the film incorporates the horrors of the world around us – ecological, political, domestic – to create a modern fable of immense guilt slowly turning over time into crippling denial, with a resolution that promotes the prosperous power of the atonement. This is most evident in the resurrected Magdalena’s various encounters with her family, almost all of which attempt to deny her very existence. Even when Cecelia and her brother individually encounter Magdalena wandering the farmyard, they are too embarrassed to say anything. The only family member who forges a serious bond with the mute matriarch is Tomás (Enzo Ferrada), Cecelia’s gender-struggling teenager, who feels an affinity for the woman who would have also clashed with female expectations. to be a wife and a mother. “You took me to another planet where people understood each other without words,” Tomás says to their reanimated grandmother, who simply holds their gaze and smiles back. Although her children refuse to acknowledge her return, her grandson does – an acknowledgment that also helps release Magdalena from the pressures of her past dynamics within the family.
This theme of healing and transformation is also likely a personal plea from the filmmaker to urge Chile – and humanity as a whole – to recognize and further prevent these devastating incidents of ecological neglect. In 2004, the Cruces River actually suffered pollution shortly after the Valdivia pulp mill opened, leading to the death or forced migration of 96.4% of the black-necked swan population from the region. The destabilization of the ecosystem caused a conflict between the citizens of the nearby town of Valdivia and the company that owns the cellulose factory, but the swans never returned and it seems that no other protections were enacted . The cow that sang a song to the future is Alegría’s assertion that we can only move forward by frankly confronting and protecting what we have previously harmed. Hope is far from lost, despite the prevalence of discouraged environmental nihilism – the nature of the Earth is to reproduce and support new life, an act of cultivation that is either greatly encouraged or negated by nature. human intervention. It’s not too late to confront, assess and undo the damage we’ve already done, as long as we’re not too cowardly to admit we’ve seriously screwed up.
Director: Francisca Alegria
Writer: Francisca Alegria
Stars: Leonor Varela, Mia Maestro, Alfredo Castro, Marcial Tagle, Enzo Ferrada, Luis Dubo?
Release date: January 23, 2022 (Sundance)
Natalia Keogan is a freelance screenwriter based in Queens, New York. His work has been featured in Pastry, blood knife and Director magazines, among others. Find her on Twitter.