A farmer’s love for his animals knows no bounds in Bloody Milk, a genre-inflected story of man and livestock. Pierre (Swann Arlaud) runs a dairy farm in France. His herd is small, but he loves them all dearly. When a new bovine virus threatens his herd, he goes to great lengths to protect them from the ruthless hand of the animal protection authorities.
The film never fully delivers on its evocative, although strangely translated title (a more literal reading would be “little farmer”, which is often used derogatorily, synonymous with a term like “hillbilly”). Pierre gets his hands dirty quite early on, but this doesn’t crescendo as an exploitation film would. Instead of indulging in the film’s genre elements, first-time director Hubert Charuel opts for a more downbeat, pensive, finale.
This is to be expected from a film with an almost documentary-like aesthetic. A real cow gives birth in immense, goopy detail, and Charuel follows Pierre’s routine moment-to-moment in early scenes. This is enhanced by Arlaud superlative performance. His love for his animals is deeply sincere and genuine, but his sense of comic timing also excels when Pierre has to start covering his tracks. Charuel treats the character very sincerely too. Pierre lives with his parents but the film never mocks him. When tending to his cattle, his loving strokes are beautifully human rather than odd or creepy.
This is aided by some lovely scenarios Charuel dreams up, presumably inspired by his family’s long history of farming. Wider themes do come into play, but the film’s primary concern is, unashamedly, the farming community. Pierre’s entertaining group of friends are farmers and they chat and debate their trade even during social gatherings; the film addresses the mechanised debate and values the human touch when it comes to animal care. In a way, this specificity, and avoidance of grander issues, holds Bloody Milk back from greatness, but it’s certainly an engaging curio of genre realism.