Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Cow (Mehrjui. 1969)

"I am not Hassan. I am Hassan's cow..."


How much have you loved your pet? I know that when my most recent family pet, Rocky, died I was heartbroken. In fact, I missed work the next two days. Having a great pet is like having a loved one who promises to love you unconditionally. All you have to do is promise to love it back. Some sort of love is the basis of one of the most simple and heart wrenching films that I have ever seen, Dariush Mehrjui's The Cow.

This is a movie that cannot get much simpler. It is located in a small Iranian village and tells the story of a man named Hassan. From the beginning we see that Hassan has a very strong bond with his cow. In fact, he spends the majority of his time bathing, feeding and practically cherishing her. He sits on the top of the cowshed at night in order to protect her from thieves. Hassan is married, but he has no children. The love for his cow may stem from his inability to have kids, but this is never actually said in the film.

This all comes crashing down when Hassan's wife finds the cow dead. The townsmen fear that Hassan will react badly, so they bury the cow in an old well and pretend that she has run away. This new story does not make the reaction any better as Hassan suffers a nervous breakdown after hearing it. He starts to believe that he is the cow. He adopts many of the cow's behavors - like eating hay and drinking from a bucket. He also sleeps in the shed every night. His psyche continues to slip until Hassan the person can no longer be reached. It is a heartbreaking transformation.

What makes The Cow significant is that it was writer/director Dariush Mehrjui's introduction to Iranian new wave filmmaking. This means that the action has a strong sense of realism because the actors are usually not professional. It is also meant to represent the everyday life of the people of the time period in a country that is underrepresented in popular film.

And that is what makes The Cow so neat. This is a film made by an Iranian, about Iranians in Iran. As a middle class American male, I have never really seen something that has shown Iranian men as human. These men care about each other. They try to do what is best by their friend and they are seriously concerned when things go downhill. The new wave feel of the whole picture gives this normally negatively portrayed culture a new life in my eyes.

This is the single most dramatic movie that I have ever seen about a cow. It is extremely well made and emotional. Its simplicity is a perfect complement to its ability to move the audience. It is subtle, beautiful and relatable. It is a great movie.

The Cow: A-

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