When I read the title and brief synopsis of ‘Bloody Milk’, I rubbed my hands together with glee, fond memories of humans-versus-barnyard-beasties horror films galloping through my mind. Unfortunately, if you are after some wildly entertaining schlock in the same vein as Bill O’Brien’s 'Isolation' and Jonathan King’s 'Black Sheep' or that episode of 'The Simpsons' where the farm animals get strung out on tomacco, stroll on. If you are seeking a tense psychological drama with moments of Coen Brothers-esque noir humour, ‘Bloody Milk’ could be for you.
Thirty-something Pierre (Swann Arlaud, ‘Romantics Anonymous’) has taken over the family dairy farm, with his sister Pascale (Sara Giraudeau, Christophe Gans’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’) carrying community veterinarian duties. When surrounding farms began to lose their stock due a stock epidemic (the fictional FHD), Pierre does what he must to ensure his farm doesn't fall victim to closure.
First-time director Hubert Charuel, born in a dairy farming environment in northeast France, clearly knows his cow shit (the film is largely shot at his own family property) and the script, written by Charuel and Claude le Pape, gets us up close and personal with the daily chores of a dairy farm. We see how important and time-consuming and isolating this life can be, especially for the smaller, independent farmer.
Inspired by the crisis of mad cow disease several years ago, the film is almost a farewell salute to the tradition of family dairy farming in the French countryside. Pierre, a loner whose mother pesters him to consider sweet local baker Angélique (India Hair, ‘Rester vertical’), prides himself on the success he has accumulated with his milk production and overall maintenance of the livestock, but takes desperate measures to hide the evidence of the epidemic among his own cows, plunging him down a path of no return. The traceability of the milk and beef production chain soon has him with his back up against the wall, forcing him to invent ways of not being discovered, being able to save the rest of his herd and not finding himself out of a job ("I don’t know how to do anything else"). Swann Arlaud plays Pierre without the explosive anger and sadness of Mattias Schoenaerts in ‘Bullhead’, but essays the growing paranoia and desperation of the farmer to good effect.
Inspired by the crisis of mad cow disease several years ago, the film is almost a farewell salute to the tradition of family dairy farming in the French countryside.
While the film contains a few elements of a virus thriller and shades of body horror, ‘Bloody Milk’ concentrates on incorporating elements of suspense in an otherwise ordinary setting, favouring tension over actual gore (the first cow execution is shot like a mafia execution).
Overall, ‘Bloody Milk’ strangely reminded me of the 1972 environmentally-themed American post-apocalyptic sci-fi cult-classic ‘Silent Running’ – both films are above all a delicate portrayal of the solitude of a man who is dedicated heart and soul to his land and his animals and the tragic extremes he engages in to preserve them.