The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future
by Matt Weiner
A family haunted by the unexplained resurrection of their dead mother from a nearby river sounds like a good setup to a horror movie. But it works even better as a sparse, lushly filmed parable about environmental destruction and humanity’s relationship to the world that sustains us.
Chilean director Francisca Alegria’s feature film The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future sounds a clarion call to repair the destruction humans are doing to the world before it’s too late. It’s a message delivered urgently and unsubtly, but with moments of great beauty that make the warnings that much more stark.
When Magdalena (Mía Maestro) returns to life and walks from the polluted Cruces River to her family dairy farm, she shocks her now-aged husband Pablo (Benjamin Soto) so much that he ends up in the hospital. Magdalena’s extended family returns to the farm, and soon everyone has to confront the long-dead specter of Magdalena as they reckon with the holes her absence left on their lives.
And while the eco parable stays repetitively on message, the heart of the film is a more intimate examination of the inseparable connection between the environment and ourselves. The sense of loss that Magdalena left behind across generations of her family—and the trauma that continues to reverberate for her daughter Cecilia (Leonor Varela) as she carries this forward to her own children—mirrors the broader fight for environmental justice that we owe to people who come after us.
Grounding the film’s flights into magical realism is a riveting silent performance from Maestro as Magdalena. Maestro channels grief, wonder and even moments of sublime joy into the resurrected Magdalena.
The family’s initial response to seeing their reanimated matriarch ranges from love and excitement to the (perfectly understandable) horror, a note that Alegria brings out to great effect. In a different movie, Magdalena’s eerie wet footsteps through the house and across town would dog Cecilia and her father relentlessly.
It’s a confrontation that seems equally likely to end in catharsis or carnage. Alegria ratchets up the tension, as well as the environmental devastation, until the metaphorical dam breaks for Cecilia.
For a film whose songs into the future traffic in death and “the end” being here, the movie also holds out hope for an ending that has yet to be written. The film is agnostic on whether civilization writ large has earned our reprieve. But if a more connected world starts with just one family—then that’s a start.