The final 20 minutes or so of “The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future,” the slow-burning parable from the writer-director Francisca Alegría, are almost entirely wordless. In its last act, the film follows the members of a fractured family as they wander about, cast in different directions and undone by recent oddities on their dairy farm. The power of Alegría’s feature debut is found not in dialogue or explication, but in the lyrical, magical realist qualities of folklore: disappointed mothers and fathers, sacred animals and cursed rivers, love and forgiveness.
At the film’s start, a woman (Mía Maestro) bubbles up from the surface of the water, landing on a riverbank filled with dead fish. In a store, an old man (Alfredo Castro) collapses at the sight of her. Miraculously alive and not having aged a day, she appears to be Magdalena, the man’s wife who mysteriously drowned herself decades earlier, leaving him and his two children behind. Soon after, the man’s daughter, Cecilia (Leonor Varela) returns to the family farm to care for her shaken father. Cecilia has her hangups about her mother’s death and her own teenage child’s transgender identity.
As Magdalena wanders back to the farm, the family begins to reckon with a complicated past, and the cows, which she had always loved but that suffer from the realities of factory farming, begin acting strangely. Through these animals, the film becomes an allegorical prayer — an elegy for human failures toward one another and the living world, and an incantation for a return and reversal of sorts.
While often elliptical, Alegría’s directing is patient, a good quality for a movie that could have fallen prey to sanctimony. In this film, the purest truth can be seen in the eyes of its cows — the mournful gaze of the mothers, and the tragically innocent look of the calves that have been torn from them.
The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. In theaters.