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IFI French Film Festival 2017 Review - BLOODY MILK

bloody milk
A young dairy farmer takes desperate measures to cover up the rare disease that has infiltrated his cows.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Hubert Charuel

Starring: Swann Arlaud, Sara Giraudeau, Isabelle Candelier, Bouli Lanners

bloody milk


Filmmakers have rarely been willing to don wellies and muck about on the farm, but with this year's God's Own Country, The Levelling and now Bloody Milk, 2017 seems to be fostering a new movement of rural drama, giving voice to a section of society that the rest of us heavily rely on for our day to day survival, yet has been disproportionately under-represented on the big screen.

In writer-director Hubert Charuel's assertive feature debut, rising French star Swann Arlaud (see him as the caddish husband in Stephane Brize's A Woman's Life) plays Pierre, a 35-year-old dairy farmer with a modest herd of cows in Northern France. The opening dream sequence, in which Pierre wakes up to find the rooms of his home crammed with cattle, tells you Pierre may need to get out more.

bloody milk

A handsome lad whose features seem more suited to a well-tailored suit than shit-stained dungarees, Pierre is nevertheless fully committed to the welfare of the farm he took over from his aging parents. He's also a paranoid wreck who spends his evenings watching two screens - one is his laptop, on which he nervously views conspiracy videos about obscure cattle diseases, the other a CCTV camera that allows him to watch over his herd like a new mother obsessing over a baby monitor.

When one of his cows dies during the night, blood pouring worryingly from its spine, Pierre realises that FHD, a flesh-eating virus that has affected cows in Belgium, has found its way to France. The right thing for Pierre to do is to immediately inform the authorities, but of course, that would result in his herd being slaughtered and the loss of his livelihood. Instead, Pierre takes matters into his own hands, burning the carcass and burying it in a nearby field. When a second cow succumbs to the virus, Pierre begins to take desperate measures, and soon finds himself in over his head as he tries to keep his actions secret from the local community, including his sister Pascale (Sara Giraudeau), who happens to be the town vet, and his increasingly suspicious mother (Isabelle Candelier).

bloody milk

In the grand scheme of things, the stakes of Bloody Milk may be relatively low, but Charuel's film puts us into the muddy boots of his hapless anti-hero, and gets us fully onside with his quest for economic survival. It's a flawless mix of rural drama and genre thriller that manages to make both disparate elements equally engrossing. Charuel draws heavily on Hitchcock, with much suspense coming from Pierre's attempts to pull the wool over a combination of family, friends and local authorities. Pierre's mother is a figure snapped straight off the Hitchcock character mould, while Giraudeau's reluctantly helpful vet has more than a hint of Grace Kelly about her. When the virus transmits itself onto Pierre's own flesh, the film enters Cronenbergian body-horror territory, making it an ideal companion to Julia Ducornau's Raw.

Charuel also exploits his own background as the son of dairy farming parents, and his film's portrayal of rural France benefits heavily from such unique insight. A major hindrance to Pierre's illegal endeavours comes from the interfering nature of such a tight-knit community, from the local baker, who has a crush on the hunky farmer; to his farming mates, who keep turning up at inopportune moments to tempt him out for a night of boozing; to his doddery, aged next door neighbour, who has an annoying habit of sneaking up silently behind Pierre while he's disposing of damning evidence.

bloody milk

In recent decades, French cinema has become known for its diversity, with people from all walks of life finding representation on screen. With Bloody Milk, Charuel takes us by the hand into a world we take for granted, but really know very little about, and lets us watch as his protagonist slowly sinks into a silage pit of his own making. There's no bag of cash, no femme fatale, and no guns are brandished, but Bloody Milk is as tense as any neon lit urban thriller.





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