Very minor spoilers below for The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future.
Autostraddle is back at Sundance — virtually! Drew Gregory is coming to you daily for the next week with all the LGBTQ+ movies at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Follow her on Twitter for more.
A trans girl’s mom insists she’s still her son. She tells her daughter to wear boy clothes before they visit extended family. The girl looks in the mirror and cries. We’ve seen this before.
When I tell you this early scene in Francisca Alegria’s remarkable The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is the only thing we’ve seen before I really truly mean it.
I have a high tolerance for languidly paced art films — blame a lonely adolescence and the Criterion Collection — but it’s a rare treat to watch a film that’s deliberate, enigmatic, and easy to recommend. Even if you’re not sure what’s happening, Alegria’s film never loses your focus. Its formal control, inventive imagery, and well-drawn characters are enough to make this not only a compelling film experience, but a really, really fun one.
This is Alegria’s first feature and it feels like the arrival of a totally new voice. The only person I can compare her to is Apichatpong Weerasethakul — ghosts, animals, surrealism, queer — and even that feels reductive to both filmmakers. Even though the film is thought-provoking rather than instructive, it’s clear that Alegria knows exactly what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. She is an artist I immediately trusted. I didn’t always need to know where her story was going or what it was doing — I could just enjoy the experience.
Most of my reviews at Sundance, I’ve written immediately after finishing the film. This one I’ve been sitting with for a few days. And in those days the experience has crystalized into something profound. I’m hesitant to declaratively say what this movie with singing cows and spontaneous orgasms is about, but to me it is about the lazy harm we inflict on women and nature. It is an intimate story about one family and a vast story about the Earth.
The film works so well because that intimate story is strong on its own. The family drama aspects of Alegria’s creation are grounded and impactful even if it’s everything else that makes it so unique. Mía Maestro as the film’s mysterious catalyst, Leonor Varela as a doctor and single mother, and Enzo Ferrada Rosati as her trans daughter all give exceptional performances as women trying to find their ways in a dying world. Rosati is especially wonderful and proof that even if a character is young and still figuring out their gender, casting an actor with shared experience will always lead to a better film — especially when the actor has such a natural tenderness and charisma.
If it feels like I’m being cryptic regarding the movie’s plot, it’s not because it’s actually that complicated. It just feels insulting to a work of art I found so rapturous to diminish it to a log line. I want people to experience its unfolding plot with the same awe that the rest of the film conjures.
With every passing year it gets harder to make a film about our poisoned Earth that remains hopeful. And yet this film succeeds. Maybe it’s the movie’s ghosts that make that possible. Even if our world is already dead, there’s still time for resurrection. There’s still time to end cycles of trauma in our families. There’s still time to change how we treat other living creatures — be they human or animal.
This is a film that deals with the natural vs. the unnatural, that confronts a history of female oppression. Trans women are included in the natural, trans women are included in that history. It may seem like a small detail, but it feels powerful to be included in this song into the future. So often we’ve been silenced in the past.