CLFF Review: ‘Cows Wearing Glasses’

Puerto Rico | 2014 | 90 min.
Director: Alex Santiago Pérez
Genre: Drama
Spanish with English subtitles

Sunday, April 12, 2015, 5:45 pm at AMC River East 21 Theatre 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015, 6:30 pm at AMC River East 21 Theatre

Set in and around Old San Juan, Alex Santiago Pérez’s Las vacas con gafas (Cows Wearing Glasses) follows the story of Marso, an elderly and solidarity painter losing his sight. The scenes are still and quiet, much like Marso; and just like Marso, the plot shuffles along at a leisurely pace.

In fact there isn’t much plot at all, at least not in the traditional sense. Very little actually happens.

But the lack of climax and resolution is intentional, for instead of making a statement, first-time director Pérez poses an important question: what is the meaning of life after we’ve lost the ability to do what we thought we were meant to do?

The dilemma applies to all human life, but artists tend to take it especially serious. Believing her literary prowess had abandoned her for good, Virginia Woolf stuffed her coat pockets with rocks and walked into a river near her home. Ernest Hemingway blew his brains out with his favorite shotgun after admitting to a friend that his famed ability “just won’t come any more.” Roger Ebert and Christopher Hitchens, both diagnosed with forms of cancer which made their last years utterly excruciating, were adamant in their refusal to surrender to their disease so long as they could still write well.

Walt Whitman famously pondered the question. His response: “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

What an artist chooses to do once they feel they’ve contributed their verse depends on individual factors. If she’s religious, the artist might think it a sin to throw away God’s gift, opting instead to await the day the Almighty calls her up to eternal paradise. If she isn’t a believer, she might think it best to bow and make her exit.

The audience can’t know to what extent Marso is considering a similar end as he stares at his blank canvass. Despite the little physical vision he has left, clearly he’s already lost his once great artistic vision. And when we learn about his turbulent relationship with an estranged middled-aged daughter, we recognize a man who long ago lost sight of himself.

Marso is haunted by his sins and fears, the ghosts of the past and of the future cluttering the corners of his mind much like the pigeons constantly fluttering on the ledge outside his window.

Ultimately it may be that, as the title suggest, the grass is really only as green as the glasses we wear.

[Photo: Chicago Latino Film Festival]