The greatest sin of writer-director Francisca Alegria’s The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is that, although it carries itself as novel, insightful art, it has nothing to say that you haven’t already heard. I use the word sin purposefully because, despite the abstract and eco folk tale-like style, Alegria has no problem preaching to you in very concrete terms. Her screenplay states what is obviously right and obviously wrong in the world. But less so than being overtly religious, she delivers this message with all the routine of politics. The message, consequently, is poorly conceived and has little nuance, resulting in a disappointingly aimless film.
Cecilia (Leonor Varela) is a middle-aged single mother and doctor who travels to her father’s farm after he has a heart attack. However, her stay takes a turn for the mystical when coinciding with several strange environmental changes around the farm, Cecilia’s deceased mother, Magdalena (Mía Maestro), returns from the river where she committed suicide many years earlier.
“…Cecilia’s deceased mother, Magdalena, returns from the river where she committed suicide…”
The central frustration of The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future revolves around its considerable potential. Firstly, it possesses sound technical qualities. The film is well-shot, with inventive framing and deliberate pacing. Secondly, it features a host of solid acting from its cast, giving a tangible sense that each character has a lived past. Thirdly, with all its abstraction and suggestion, the plot features a handful of thematically compelling ideas. Given its chimerical nature, this drama and its director veritably promise to explore bold cinematic territory.
The problem is that neither keeps to this promise. Alegria almost stubbornly wastes every account of potential, rendering the whole enterprise almost wholly redundant as an artistic statement. The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future fundamentally cannot decide on an identity. There are moments of mystery, horror, and drama, but all of them are so shallow it is as though the film is trying on second-hand outfits. Despite the strength of the cinematography, little is done to create a believable world. While fleshed out and well acted at their base, the characters themselves are so inert as evolving personalities they become imprisoned inside of the plot. Speaking of, the story itself scarcely exists as a complete whole. Instead of helping to reveal each person and draw insight into the essential link between nature and humanity, the narrative essentially renders everyone as merely talking heads.
Ultimately, The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future represents one of the sternest examples of sacrificing the heart of a film for the demands of a specific message. Every genuinely compelling moment is forced to become an object of one-dimensional dogma. And all of the film’s latent wonder is sacrificed at the altar of hollow reductionism. It is nothing but an unfortunate result. Had Alegria allowed the story to grow naturally, to express itself organically as art and not politics, the film could have been a rather beautiful little fairy tale.
"…one of the sternest examples of sacrificing the heart of a film for the demands of a specific message."