The Cow: one of the pioneering cult films of the Iranian new wave

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Iranian New Wave was born inspired by Italian Neorealism. Dariush Mehrjui‘s cow adds a mystical vision and surreal sequences. A revolutionary language that had never been seen in Iran until that moment, destined to change the cinema of the country and to give way to the Iranian new wave. 

The plot of the film

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Hassan is a poor farmer who loves his cow more than anything else. The animal is his only source of subsistence and reciprocates his love. The camera, Hassan and the cow dance in a pressing montage. Hassan is happy in the company of the animal, he bathes in the lake with his cow, caresses it, drinks water with her. 

Then the appearance in the long shot of 3 shady figures, an evil omen that haunts him and his fellow villagers. They are the dangerous Bolouris, “cattle thieves heedless of God”. The village is at the mercy of the beliefs and rites against the evil eye in popular Islam.

One day Hassan leaves the village and his wife discovers that the cow is inexplicably dead. His fellow villagers are very worried about what will happen to Hassan when he returns, about the terrible sorrow that the man will face. To avoid the pain of their friend Hassan, they bury the corpse of the cow in a well and decide not to tell him what happened. 

When he returns to Hassan his cow everywhere. The friends of the village stall by telling him lies. They lie to him and tell him that the cow has suddenly run away but that they are looking for it and will bring it back to him as soon as possible. 

Hassan, at first very upset, slowly loses his reason, to the point of going mad. He closes himself in the stable to eat hay and thinks he is the cow himself. Friends try to console him and make him regain his wits in every way, while his body becomes bruised.

Meanwhile, in the culture of the village, full of religious beliefs and rites to protect oneself from evil, the threat of invaders from the enemy clan can be felt in the air. The black-clad Bouloris wandering the surrounding hills become metaphorical images of a spell that men cannot explain. 

Watch The Cow


The distribution of the film

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Blocked by Iranian censorship for the retrograde portrayal of the country’s peasant society. A perception that the government intended to completely erase in favor of an image and progressive. The film managed to smuggle to enter the Venice Film Festival in 1971 and to win the fipresci prize. He was also awarded at the Berlin Film Festival and the Rotterdam Film Festival in 1972. The cow becomes the progenitor cult film of the Iranian New wave.

The cow: more info on the film

Mehrjui, after his directorial debut with a James Bond parody, tells of a small village in Iran, deep out of time, a victim of its archaic traditions, making a memorable and figuratively extraordinary film, ten years before the revolution that will shock the country.

Unforgettable is the performance of the Iranian actor Ezzatolah Entezami, and his descent into the underworld of madness. His face more and more livid, his posture more and more animalistic, he really seems to transform himself into the cow. The sequences in which he completely loses his reason and the one in which he is captured and tied up by his friends like an animal enter right into the history of cinema

Even if the film The Cow was financed by the Iranian government, its style is that of pure independent cinema, of neorealist inspiration. The director uses the authentic faces of rural Iran in the cast. Faces framed within masonry structures as if imprisoned in their social condition. 

The film is a refined psychological and social critique, a warning message about alienation and Marxist materialism. Hassan’s economic and emotional dependence on The cow is a metaphor for man’s dependence on modern secular and materialistic society.

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