If you have ever wanted the experience of being within the mind of a farm animal, “Gunda” by the director Viktor Kossakovsky (and produced by Joaquin Phoenix) is the film for you. This brief voyage is incredibly thorough and detailed and will engage from the start. With gorgeous black and white cinematography, the porcine meanderings initiate a kind of hypnosis. In a zen manner, the viewer travels within and becomes the animal soul.
Gunda is a large mother pig with a litter of piglets. For hour upon hour, her nipples are sought for milk. Feeding time is a frenzy full of screaming, clawing and tumbling. Weariness and fatigue show on Gunda’s face: the mother forever working. Gunda trudges on, resembling a creature of the supernatural. Whole worlds are within her domain.
There is a chicken with one leg, its head large and regal, resembling a portrait by a master painter crested with a crown. Despite the hardship, the chicken moves in a clear direct insistence, one step at a time. Though the chicken’s condition is existential, it is certain and resolute.
A herd of cows run in a wild jumble. Perhaps they are given a period of exercise. Perhaps it is a reprieve from a slaughterhouse, or an escape. Their legs churn with enormous emotion, appearing to have so much energy that they seem about to collapse.
Seconds later, the animals stare impassively into the camera.
A farm machine comes into view. Huge rubber wheels crunch the earth. This is also an animal, made of carnivorous rubber and steel. The roaring noise it makes is infinite, greedy and unkind. The machine is a hallmark of humanity, anchored by curious beings who are pink, selfish and all but invisible here.
As the engine dissipates with a sound as black as the earthmover, Gunda circles, before staring down the camera with reproach and then tiredness. With what could almost be thought of as a shrug, the unflappable mom disappears within her home, a single pitch black rectangle.
The main surprise in watching “Gunda,” a deceptively simple, one of a kind film, is the realization that these animals are by no means separate. They are very much part of us and live within.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org