‘Two Women and a Cow’ (‘Dos Mujeres y una Vaca’): Film Review

Two Women and a Cow Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Doble Sentido

Two Women and a Cow Still - Publicity - H 2016

Winningly direct but heavily flawed.

Efrain Bahamon’s feature debut is a gentle fable about the innocent victims of Colombia’s armed conflict.

A simply told tale of lives lived in circumstances of unimaginable horror, Efrain Bahamon’s Two Women and a Cow represents a welcome if flawed addition to the burgeoning canon of Colombian movies about that nation’s long-running conflict, in which civilians have been the main victims. It’s a genre which achieved its highest international profile with Jose Luis Rugeles’ Alias Maria, which played at Cannes last year, but this is altogether less in-your-face, dealing with the conflict entirely in terms of its consequences on the lives of the three protagonists of its title. A far lesser achievement, the straightforward and simply-told Women has the virtue of addressing complex issues in a refreshingly direct and accessible way.

Religious, doughty, aphorism-spouting Rosana (veteran Mexican actress Luisa Huertas) and her unworldly, pregnant daughter-in-law Hermelinda (Ana Maria Estupinan), live in a remote homestead in the mountains, accompanied by a few chickens and a cow, Corina. Some good-natured bickering apart, what must in real terms be a pretty tough lifestyle is presented as being fairly idyllic. The first scene shows Ramon (Francisco Martinez) delivering a letter from Hermelinda’s husband and Rosana’s son, Pastor; but neither of the woman can read. The contents of the letter are a mystery which the women decide to solve by travelling, accompanied by Corina, to a neighboring village.

The long shadow of the Colombian conflict is really felt only after the end of the first hour, when the journey of the three ends with the discovery that the village has just been attacked by paramilitaries, leaving Ramon dead, and a mother a son apparently so: the son, Manuel, is still alive but unable to speak. (This is based on the dreadful El Salado massacre of 2000, but Women falls well short of rendering the true horror of it all: in this case, the reality will have outdone the fiction).

After the uneventfulness of the first half, the second packs in too much, generating the sense that things are being rushed, left dramatically underexploited and indeed implausible, with Bahamon incredibly failing to generate much suspense even out of a scene involving a baby, a cow, and a minefield. Hermelinda has her baby (as in Alias Maria, much tension is created by having an infant-in-arms carried around), and recovers unbelievably quickly from the experience; Faustino (Luis Eduardo Loor), an army deserter appears, who has information about Rosana which she has been hiding.

Neither performances nor characterization are subtle, and the film’s appealing directness may in fact be unwitting, and down to disingenuousness on the part of its director. This means that it works better as a kind of fable of the conflict than as any realistic representation of it. And as a fable, what it’s telling us (as per the title) is that the men with guns have killed each other, leaving the land -- and the future -- in the hands of women (and animals) who decide, with resolution and dignity, to do the only thing they can and carry on. (With the recent signing of a potentially historic cease fire agreement going to the public vote later in 2016, events may be about to overtake the world of Two Women and a Cow, but nobody will be complaining about that.)

A couple of scenes are very odd, such as one involving Rosana using a stick to persuade a snake to turn around rather than doing the sensible thing, which would be to walk away. Rather more successful in their weirdness are a moment of magical realism in which Rosana catches a ghostly underwater glimpse of the dead Pastor (Leonardo Ortiz), and best of all is a really out-there scene involving blind man Abel (Cesar ‘Coco’ Badillo) strumming his guitar terribly and spouting prophesies, having been driven mad by the death of his whole family.

Visuals are efficient rather than spectacular, but there are a couple of nicely framed vignettes of the women against peeling, textured walls, while the visual linkage between military helicopters and vultures -- both aerial harbingers of death - is nicely made.

Production company: Doble Sentido
Cast: Luisa Huertas, Ana Maria Estupinan, Juan Pablo Barragan
Director, screenwriter: Efrain Bahamon.
Producers: Maria Jose Posada Venegas, Jose Antonio ‘Chepe’ Calderon Gomez
Executive producer: Alberto Amaya
Director of photography: Francisco ‘Pacho’ Gaviria
Production designer: Claudia Mejia Valencia
Editor: Carlos Cordero Munoz
Composer: Andres Martinez Ojeda
Sales: Doble Sentido

No rating, 97 minutes