LUMA may break your heart. As more people adopt plant-based diets for health and environmental reasons, or both, a new documentary suggests a third motivation : the belief that animals have souls.

Cow, from English director Andrea Arnold {Fish Tank, American Honey}, follows the life of a cow on a Kent dairy farm for roughly four years.

Arnold's star, Luma, gives birth to a calf in the film's opening : it pops out in a burst of slime, unsure what to make of its first minutes in the world even as our heroine licks it clean, preparing it for whatever might come next.

The answer - if that calf is lucky, which it may not be - is a life of routine and service, of being hooked up daily to a multi armed milking apparatus, with only infrequent, well-earned frolics in the grass.

Luma is a comely black-and-white creature with Maybelline lashes and a freckle near her eye.

At first, you're not sure you'll be able to pick her out of the herd. Before long, you're attuned to her every moment. In one remarkable sequence, she challenges the camera to a long stare-down, and wins.

Arnold's documentary, her first, is a work of somber and sometimes harsh beauty, a fine companion piece to Viktor KosaKoviky's gorgeous 2020 swine song Gunda.

Cow doesn't sentimentalize its subject., but does something better : it sees her with respect and clarity. Although we can never really know what animals are thinking, maybe it's enough to know that they are. [S.Z.]


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