Film Review: 'The Moo Man'

There's something quietly enthralling about Heike Bachelier and Andy Heathcote's observational trip to a small Sussex dairy farm. Having premièred at Sundance London back in April, The Moo Man (2013) has procured its marketing budget through online crowd-sourcing ahead of this week's release. A brief foray into the world of dairy production, this is a peek into a field in England that's home to a bucolic idyll, a lovingly-reared herd of cows and a farmer striking out on his own in order to survive. Steve Hook is the man in question and the focus of the directors' visit to Hook & Son's - where he constitutes the son.

The business supplies organic raw milk 'direct from [their] farm, direct to your door' which, they argue, is creamier and tastier than shop-bought. Their small herd becomes the supporting players in this arcadian setup as the camera follows Steve around the farm. It's clear that the welfare of the cattle is of prime importance: less pressure is placed on the cows to yield; the herd's average lifespan is 50% longer than that of their peers; unusually for milk farmers, they do not kill male calves when born. Embracing a vérité approach to proceedings, the film mostly avoids the use of talking-heads opting instead to unobtrusively shadow Steve. This provides moments of both frantic excitement and calm, relaxed reflection.

Through snippets of conversations it is revealed than Steve and his father have devised a way to make their herd financially viable. Supermarkets will apparently sell milk at seven-pence-per-litre below cost price and as such, most farmers are forced to live on benefits just to survive. A late inter-title asserts that the overall number of family farms in England and Wales has halved in a decade. It's not the industry's wider situation that Heathcote and Bachelier are interested in, though, it's Hook & Sons way of forging forward by looking back.

Although little really happens during the ninety-seven minute runtime, the film slowly pulls you in; from the parochial charm of its opening through to its tender finale, where a poignant eulogy for a deceased member of the heard showcases Steve's devotion to the animals. Bachelier and Heathcote's The Moo Man may not initially seem like much by the standards of today's genre-defying documentaries, but it is an eloquent and considered portrait of rustic endeavour.

Ben Nicholson


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