Watching and listening to farm animals can be surprisingly cinematic in this immersive dialogue-free new documentary by Kossakovsky that seems to exist outside of time, even as it startlingly reminds us that these animals have fates they can’t control.
Dir. Victor Kossakovsky
2020 | Norway/USA | Documentary | 93 mins | 1.85:1 | No dialogue
PG (passed clean)
Plot: Documentary looks at the daily life of a pig and its farm animal companions: several cows and a one-legged chicken.
Awards: Nom. for Encounters Award & Documentary Award (Berlinale)
International Sales: Cinephil (SG: Anticipate Pictures)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Animals
Narrative Style: N.A.
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: The Projector
If you love animals, you are going to like this film, but you’ll have to be mentally prepared that it is entirely dialogue or narration-free.
Gunda is a documentary that has been stripped to its barest essentials—its fluid camerawork and polished visuals (perhaps too polished one might argue) belie the fact that it is simply an observational film about the lives of farm animals.
But it’s not a simple work; in fact, one might be surprised at how cinematic it is. With the immersive use of sound and its compassionate if relentless gaze on the animals, Gunda teaches us how to watch and listen empathetically to them.
We see a one-legged chicken struggle with mobility and recognise the trait of perseverance; we encounter a herd of tagged cattle as they graze the fields, if only temporarily, like prisoners let out to stretch their limbs.
We spend most of the time, however, with Gunda the Mama pig and her litter of piglets—they remind us about the joys of being with family.
But director Victor Kossakovsky has something else up his sleeves. All I can say is that even though the film lulls us into a meditative (some might say ASMR) state, he jolts us awake with an unexpected, prolonged sound (‘noise’ may be more accurate a term), forcing us to confront the implications of it.
When humans are around, animals have fates they can’t control. But Gunda also seems to exist outside of time, like an idyllic fantasy—or is it an eternal nightmare? It might just as well had been shot 50 years ago, or 100 years into the future, and it would probably still have looked and felt the same.
Perhaps that is what Kossakovsky is trying to imply—that time and time again, we as human beings are unmoved by the plight of animals even as we remain endlessly fascinated by them.