Review: The Cow
Of all the Iranian films that I’ve never seen but heard (or read) a lot about, Dariush Mehrjui’s The Cow (1974) tops the list. Widely accepted as the film that launch the Iranian New Wave, The Cow comes to Toronto and, presumably, a fresh audience as part of TIFF’s I for Iran: A History of Iranian Cinema by its Creators.
The Cow focuses on Hassan, a villager who really loves his cow. The film opens with some lovely scenes demonstrating the relationship that he has with the beast, including a bath in a pond and feeding time in the cow shed. When Hassan must leave town for a day, his cow dies and the villagers, in an attempt to soften the blow, bury the body and concoct a story about the cow running away. Hassan doesn’t believe that his cow would flee and eventually descends into something that looks a lot like insanity, believing he is the cow.
It’s a simple tale but beautifully rendered. The cinematography demonstrates Mehrjui’s obvious admiration for Italian neorealism while remaining firmly rooted in Persian culture. Like Persian metaphysical poetry and literature, The Cow starts with the real object, the cow, and extends itself via narrative into allegory and metaphor. The realism is complete, painting a picture of village life full of idiosyncratic characters and the petty intrigues of small towns. The metaphor is accessible, though a Western viewer may have a nagging sense that some layer of meaning remains opaque.
The Cow is widely accepted to be the premier film in Iranian cinema and, despite whatever cultural barriers remain in fully understanding the film, that fact shines through.
The Cow is screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday March 6, 2015 at 6:00 pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit tiff.net.