Gaav Tells of a Farmer and the Killing of His Cow - "The Cow" Review

By Thomas Quinn Curtiss The New York Times

The Venice Film Festival prides itself on revealing new talents. In 1951 it honored "Rashomon" with its Golden Lion first prize (now temporarily abolished) and thus introduced the Japanese cinema to the West. Since then it has sought to repeat this Marco Polo-esque feat, welcoming motion pictures from unlikely lands, often more out of hope than sound judgment.

Today it presented an Iranian film, Gaav ("The Cow"), and at a news conference afterward its director, Dariush Mehrjui, related the history of its shooting and told of the general state of things cinematographic in Iran.

More symbolic than sociological, the film tells of a farmer who owns the only cow of a rural community on the plains. He adores the beast and since it provides the only milk in the vicinity the other inhabitants share his worship, believing the animal to be sacred.

While he is away the cow is mysteriously slain and the neighbors, fearing the owner's wrath, bury it, intending to tell him it has run off. When he returns and learns the news, he goes mad and metamorphosizes himself into the cow, shutting himself up in the stable, mooing and nibbling straw. His comrades tie him up to drag him off to a hospital, but he breaks away and throws himself into a ravine. Who killed the cow is not disclosed, but since a sinister trio of uniformed men, wielding scimitars, make nightly raids on the village, it is probably their act.

Exhibited here without subtitles, Gaav is doubly mysterious. But there is an honest purpose to its direction and acting, and it conveys effectively the sense of a primitive folk-legend, old but eternal.

Japan is represented this year by Akira Kurosawa's Dodeska-Den (the title is the continual cry of a retarded boy who fancies himself a streetcar conductor). It is a Gorki-cum-Zola study of the human wreckage afloat in a settlement of dilapidated shacks.

A dramatic power lifts the multiple tragedy above its oppressive materials, lending it a somber grandeur and relieving its murky gloom with compassion and some sudden shafts of ironic humor. What the film offers is a sort of contemporary Japanese version of "The Lower Depths," in treatment often more Russian than Nipponese.

Originally Published August 28, 1971

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