Synopsis

Documentary looks at the daily life of a pig and its farm animal companions: two cows and a one-legged chicken.

Director

Viktor Kossakovsky

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Horst_In_Translation 8 /10

Beauty is perishable

"Gunda" is a relatively new film, even if it premiered already back in 2020 actually in my city here in Berlin, but took until August/September 2021 now for a wide release, but I am glad it got it because it is not really a creative movie, but also an important one. Let's start with the basics: This is a co-production between Norway, the United Kingdom and United States and I feel that this will be seen by more people here in Europe than over there in America. It is really a mix of many countries because the director is Viktor Kosakovskiy, who was born in the Soviet Union back in the day and just turned 60 actually. A really experienced filmmaker who started working in the industry back in the early 1990s already and maybe with this movie he gave himself the biggest present as this could very well become his most known work. Despite the simplicity that surrounds it, but I will get to that later on. His co-writer and also editor here is Ainara Vera, more multicultural aspects, and it is not the first time the two have worked together on a film. If you have no heard from these two so far, don't worry. One you surely have heard of is executiive producer Joaquin Phoenix and his name also makes it a bit obvious which direction this film is heading. I also found it interesting that Danny Glover was mentioned in the credits and received a special thanks inclusion. This one runs for slightly over 1.5 hours and it is in black-and-white from beginning to end. I like this creative choice, but I am not unbiased because I am generally a bit of a sucker for black-and-white projects. It made sense though. We don't need to see the beautiful color of the chickens for example to appreciate the greatness of nature. There are more than enough other reasons to do so. They really kept it basic and essential overall. There is also no narration, which is really not a given for documentary movies. But hearing the noises from these animals is even more at the center of it all this way, most of all the happy squealing, but also other noises I will talk about a little later. You don't need to find out how long it takes for piglets until they stop drinking their mother's milk. It's not really a film to learn something. It's about appreciating the beauty of nature. And mourning its loss eventually.

Gunda is of course the pig at the center of the story, mother to (if I counted correctly) a massive amount of ten piglets in total. The film starts basically when they are born and really small and we see how they come one-by-one out of the barn (this is shown once again later on, with their mother coming out first that time and they follow her), which is not just super cute, but also brings a certain amount of pleasant anticipation to the viewers as we know there will be more coming out every second. Unfortunately, this is in the end also one of the most depressing things about this movie. In the end, Gunda vanishes back into the barn, into the black, all on her own again, and the exact place where this film started so pleasantly and joyfully is now pretty much only connected to loss. This was a really creative framework that emphasizes the film's message in a way that could not have been done any better. Before I go on with Gunda and her kids, a few words on the other animals: We have of course the chickens here. Imperfection that does not take away from beauty is also a key aspect here. The one we see most of the time has only one leg, but it can still walk, just looks a bit clumsy, and is nonetheless and amazing creation of nature. And then the cows. There I have a little more to say because those were part of two of my favorite moments from this film. The first would be when we see all those cows run out towards the meadow which is so nice to see and a statement as powerful as it can be to support the idea that cows do not belong in tiny stables where they can barely move. They enjoy the sun outside this much, enjoy the fresh air and all the space and room they have. It was a joy to see them running like that. The other scene would be when we see how smart the cows really are. They are constantly annoyed by flies, especially next to their heads, so two cows stand next to each other in a way and position where they can at least to some extent chase away the flies from the other cow's head with the help of their tails. What a really, really smart cooperation that was. I wonder if many other people paid attention to this moment.

Now back to Gunda and her kids. I mean I always thought piglets were really cute, so no surprise for me here from this perspective. It is impossible though to not care for those piglets in all these situations and it's really heartwarming to see that they all survived apparently (initially) and grew bigger than. I felt a bit sorry for Gunda though in the later stages that they were still going for her tits with how "heavy" they already were at this point. The "(initially)" referes to the ending and reminds us that destruction by humans (we don#t see people in here, but their vehicle stands metaphorically for destruction) is inevitable when it comes no nature and beauty associated with nature. The piglets are driven away and Gunda is there all on her own and maybe some think this sequence was to long, this very final sequence, but I think it had to be this long because it really showed us how animals can be in pain, how they suffer, not physically, but mentally if you want to call it like that. Imagine a mother who has ten kids and they are all taken away to be killed. To be eaten. What a horror scenario. Well, that is what happens here and it is heartbreaking to see Gunda suffer from her loss with how she has no idea what is going on after all the love and dedication and taps and milk she gave them. Everybody in the audience can feel her pain and I was tempted to say "even if she is only an animal", but the better wording would be "because she is an animal". This is also where it feels fitting that Phoenix, with his environmental background, is a part of this film. Maybe you have heard of his movie "Earthlings", a completely different approach to livestock farming, but the message is actually somehow the same in the very end. I thought that here it was especially heartbreaking when we saw Gunda look right into the camera. And her sounds as well. The ending was really sobering anyway because it takes us ruthlessly back to reality where sadly those piglets cannot stay with their mom for the rest of their lives. Or her life. But I still have a bit of hope that it was just reenacted somehow because this seemed to be a place where they cared about the animals and treated them nicely, but not sure if this nicely for a porky family reunion.

In any case, it is these beautiful images that are a key reason to watch this film. The innocence coming with them in a world that does not require humans whatsoever, but also the drastic and inevitable loss of said innocence. This is pretty much all then. I don't really want to tell you what to take from this movie or similar movies. It's up to everybody on their own if they want to become a vegetarian (which is what I am), a vegan, or stay a carnivore and maybe just think a little more about what they buy and from whom. If everybody thinks a bit more about their nutrition (and consequently not only about the animals, but about one's own health), it is an important step forward. I am sure this film contributed a lot to that and as of now, this is my favorite film from 2020, even if there is still really a lot to see. But I am still optimistic that it will stay in my top5, probably even top3, maybe even number one. The images were just beautiful and the message could not have been any more memorable despite the simplicity surrounding this project. Some real talent involved here. Big thumbs-up to everybody who was involved with this project and I truly hope it will be seen a lot in the future, no matter if at the movie theater or at home when it airs on television. It surely will, unless shady lobbyists get in the way. Anyway, what I actually want to say is that you should not miss out here. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by ferguson-6 8 /10

pork, chicken, and beef come alive

Greetings again from the darkness. We open on a pig in prone position with her head sticking through an opening in the barn. It takes a minute to realize the sow isn't sleeping, but rather giving birth. Slowly the newborn piglets begin tumbling out into the world. Cutting to a reverse camera angle, we see the 12-13 babies desperately trying to latch onto mom for their first meal. The runt of the litter struggles more than the others. Award-winning filmmaker Viktor Kosakovskiy runs this first segment just over 19 minutes. There is no dialogue. No human on screen. The soundtrack is all natural from nature: the snorts from mama sow, the squeals from piglets, and unseen birds chirping.

Our second segment finds roosters in a crate. Clearly new to the surroundings, and likely never-before "free" to roam the land, these chickens cautiously explore as the camera focuses on their tentative initial steps from the cage and startled reactions to birds. A one-legged rooster captures our attention as it makes its way through the grass and over fallen logs. It's likely the longest amount of time a movie camera has been dedicated to following roosters around.

We then head back to find the piglets have grown substantially. We don't know how much time has passed, but we watch along with their mother as the youngsters play in the field, fight with each other, and bully their youngest sibling. Gunda, the mother sow, watches over them just as any mother would watch over her kids. Our third group is introduced as the barn door opens and the cows are released. They romp into the fields like school kids at recess. Some of the cows stare directly into the camera as if to inform us they are ready for their close-up. It's fascinating to see how they use teamwork for an ingenious head-to-tail solution to the annoying flies that relentlessly pester them.

The final segment returns us to the pigs as they display the same feeding frenzy as one might witness at the buffet on a Carnival cruise. An ending that will surely evoke emotions in viewers, though maybe not at the extreme of Gunda herself. Filmmaker Kosakovskiy leaves us wondering how a black and white film with no dialogue or human characters makes such an impression as it focuses on farm animals. Pork, chicken, and beef. Clearly it's no coincidence that he chose three staples of the American diet. There is no lecture on animal rights, and none of the brutality of other "raised for food" documentaries is shown. But the message is there. It was filmed on farms in Norway, Spain, and the U. K., but the locales matter little. Director Kosakovskiy previously brought us the excellent AQUARELA (2018), a documentary showcasing the nature of water and ice, and here he assisted Egil Haskjold Larsen with cinematography, and Ainara Vera with editing. It's an unusual film, and one meant to inspire reflection and thought ... and hopefully change.

In theaters beginning April 16, 2021.

Reviewed by jadepietro 7 /10

Have You Seen the Little Piggies?

IN BRIEF: A well-made but slow moving pig's tale.

JIM'S REVIEW: (RECOMMENDED) A pig and her litter, a one-legged chicken, and some cows are the main cast in this fine documentary, Gunda, Viktor Kosakovskiy's understated cinematic plea for animal rights.

Gunda is an enormous sow that has just given birth to a dozen small piglets. This is their story of life down on the farm. Call me a city boy, but the film depicts the daily mundane weeks in this pig's heaven (or hell) and I have chosen the right lifestyle for me. Still, it is a fascinating place to visit.

There are no voiceovers, no sweeping musical score, no Disney sentimentalizing... just straight-forward filming of natural country events. There are many grunts, squeals, and moos to be heard and lots of mud and flies buzzing around too.

This is a well-made documentary that tries to convey an animal's everyday existence. The wonderful sound design by Alexander Dudarev immerses the moviegoer into this rarely-seen animal kingdom. The masterful b&w photography by Egil Håskjold Larsen and the director is stunning with its low-level point of view and detailed close-ups of farm critters.

However, the story seems non-existent and Mr. Kosakovskiy lets scenes go on for far too long, at a turtle's pace, although none of those creatures are in sight. The documentary does eventually build to its subtle message about the cruelty of our food chain, but any astute moviegoer knows the fate of our little dirty dozen from the start. (A side note: All of our violent deeds are strongly implied, but mercifully not shown.) I could say there is much food for thought in this documentary, but then I would be called insensitive or callous. Let's just say, this film deserves your attention. (GRADE: B-)

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