Steak (R)evolution

Faced with a title like Steak (R)evolution, is it so wrong to hope for a movie in which cows genetically modify themselves into super-intelligence and overrun their corrals in a stampede of rebellion? (You could have scenes of dumbfounded cable news broadcasters pulling faces over headlines like “cow d’etat!” and “cow-meuppance!”) Well, this documentary from director Frank Ribière and butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec is an altogether more even-tempered affair; the closest it comes to anything like apocalyptic turmoil is when someone makes the worried point that French cattle have been increasingly “looking like bodybuilders.” Apparently the (r)evolution in question — and are we sure it’s not just a cyclical trend? — has to do with the new consensus that fat is flavorful and that factory farming isn’t sustainable. To flesh out their argument, Ribière and Le Bourdonnec travel the world, tasting steak. In Japan, real cows have curves and listen to Mozart for relaxation. In Belgium, being a butcher used to be uncool, but not anymore. In Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley, the occupation is of course insufferably self-important. In most places, unsurprisingly, the world of steak is a man’s world. The film isn’t without a sense of indulgence, advancing more meat close-ups and wide shots of cows grazing than would seem favorable to narrative momentum. Even the most avidly carnivorous of viewers may concede that it’s all a bit heavy: After it ends — with one farmer’s avowal to “tell if the animals are healthy by looking at their shit” — you may just want to opt for a salad.