Not a bullfight but a cow fight is the traditional event that takes place in southern Switzerland in particular and attracts large crowds every year. These contests between cows and heifers are all about each animal’s ranking within the herd. This hierarchy has to be in place before the cows leave their owners’ farms where they have spent the winter to be driven onto the mountain pastures where they will spend the summer. When cows do battle there are no injuries, rather, the loser is the one which retreats. The battle itself involves a lot of snorting and jostling; it is an explosion of muscles and flesh that is wild and archaic. The fight resembles a dance of several tonnes of black-and-white sinew, its rhythms interrupted by contrapuntal editing. The wildest contestants are cows from Eringer and Evolène, both of which are endangered breeds since they aren’t suitable for the mass meat farming industry.
In his film KAMPF DER KÖNIGINNEN director Nicolas Steiner attempts a delicate balancing act between tradition and modernity. Structured in strands in which the various protagonists are introduced – such as a committed farmer preparing his cow for battle; a radio reporter cutting his teeth on his first challenging assignment, and a gang of youths on mopeds who only have eyes for the cowgirls – the film portrays this archaic ritual in all its eccentric charm and beauty. At the end of the contest, the victorious cow is crowned, after which this queen of the Alps leads her inferior competitors out to the pastures.