If the literary works of Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez aren’t enough to remind you how firmly the origins of magic realism lie in Latin America, then the cinema of Alfonso Arau, Guillermo del Toro and – now – Francisca Alegria collectively act to make sure you don’t forget. With The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future, Alegria marks her confident feature debut, crafting a tale as strange as it is memorable.
The film begins with an ecological disaster in the river of a small Chilean town as fish en masse appear to hurl themselves out of the water to die on the nearby river banks. And it’s not just fish who are mysteriously emerging from the water – long thought dead, Magdelena (Mia Maestro) too appears, soaking wet, unable to speak but soon finding a way to use her peculiar connection to consumer electronics to find her voice. Shocked by her appearance as she wanders aimlessly into town, her husband Enrique (Alfredo Castro) is so shocked he has a heart attack. Their adult doctor daughter Cecilia (Leonor Varela) leaves the city with her two children to look after him on his struggling dairy farm, the reunification of the family leading to a series of revelations that until now have been buried secrets.
On paper, you could almost be forgiven for mistaking The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future as a kind of Twin Peaks-esque mystery, with a central enigma – what happened to Magdelena? – providing the narrative core around which a parade of colorful moments featuring a cast of singing cows and moto-riding environmental activists pop up in quirky cameos. But this is no David Lynch fanfic; tonally the film is sombre, almost at times even reverent, as it paints a complex family web and a world gone mad, where nature necessarily must suffer at the hands of progress.
The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is a moving portrait of the intersection of motherhood and environment, told through the captivating flourishes of Francisca Alegria’s own particular brand of magic realism.