Let it be known that upon watching the trailer, Charlie messaged me with the word's "I feel this is a very you film." Let's be honest- I'm delighted that I've garnered myself a reputation for the appreciation of piglets. Now, as the designated farmyard auteur, I must admit 'Gunda' was my toughest and most persistent project yet... and I read 'Animal Farm' three times (...and starred in, but that's a different story).
This ain't no 'Charlotte's Web,' and it ain't no 'Babe' (I can hear director Viktor Kossakovsky bristling at the likes of me even suggesting the comparison), but this project is honest, it is beautiful, and completely outrageously brave.
I've been struggling for a few days now about what to write. In its essence, this film is very Russian in its approach to film making. I am aware that one's nationality is not adjective - nor is it an application for boxing an artist in - but his Russian influence is undoubtedly present throughout the construction of the film. Long, languid shots rely on the changing of a frame for its transition, its meditative momentum, and its commentary on the life of animals, whilst undoubtedly forcing people to reflect on our relationship with them. I give 'Gunda' credit for its nuance. Kossakovsky is A) brave in the face of asking for funding and support for a documentary that entirely focuses on animals, and B) trusting audiences with the viewership and application of etiquette to sit thoughtfully with this film. I'll come back to this.
'Gunda' is an observational piece that follows and documents the livelihood of barnyard animals - black and white, no interjection, and entirely focused on capturing the beauty of creatures. The film's protagonist is Gunda, a female sow, who trapeses, feeds, snorts and cares for her little ones as we are provided a back seat lens to her life. Amid this, we are sometimes guided to look upon chickens (particularly a vibrant one-legged fellow) and cows too. In its organic unfurling, audiences are only provided diegetic sounds of clucks, moos and snorts, encapsulating the environment and all the personalities within it.
Sometimes when writing a review, I read up and research other analyses, observations or points. It helps me understand my own perspective, or treats me to new insights. There are great reviews that point out what Victor Kossakovsky was directing audiences to in his commentary on animals. And it really is worth reading - it divulges the purpose of the film and our evolutionary relationship in accordance with meat. Whilst I could write about this, and find his work stylistically interesting in tandem with his message, it was more so gratifying to me that Kossakovsky still believes in film as a meditative art form.
Kossakovsky managed to bottle up the feelings and emotions that I encounter when I get away from the concrete, car horns and offices and transpose it directly onto the screen.
Presently, we are facing a media consumer dilemma. It's great for filmmakers, but has dire consequences for the audience's attention span. We have widespread access - nearly infinite content - across too many streaming platforms. We demand entertainment. I found myself throughout the course of this film getting twitchy. But I wouldn't be surprised if this was also a point of Kossakovsky's commentary. Yes, he points out our flawed relationship with animals. But, in a backwards way, I think he points out our reliance on it too. Humans have always had a relationship with nature - which we need for relaxation, to get away, to be still. It's why we find the countryside so endearing. The style of 'Gunda', its shot flow, audio, easiness and subjects - reminded me too of the busyness of life - Kossakovsky managed to bottle up the feelings and emotions that I encounter when I get away from the concrete, car horns and offices and transpose it directly onto the screen.
This documentary doesn't just deserve to be praised for footage captured. Its editing is key in articulating an emotional dialogue that forces its viewers to stop, breathe, and bear witness.