Gunda: Glucksschwein, by David Bax
In many ways, Viktor Kosakovskiy’s Gunda is not a traditional animal documentary. It has no narration, doesn’t impose characters and storylines onto its subjects and it’s completely in black and white. But it does have one of the most compelling ingredients of such films in abundance. Namely, it’s cute as hell. Most of the screen time is occupied by a group of piglets who hop around the farmyard like wind-up dolls and occasionally do unbelievably adorable things like try to drink falling rain right out of the sky.
These behaviors are endearing, which means we’re taken with these animals but also that we pretty much immediately begin to worry about them. That concern is not misplaced, either. Gunda presents us with a portrait of life, an often dangerous endeavor. We come to see ourselves in these animals without Kosakovskiy having to project human traits on them through editing.
It’s not all pigs all the time, even though they do come across the best. On the other end of things, we have the chickens. In the brief time we spend with them, all they seem to do is stare in wide-eyed caution, verging on terror. One rooster stoically hops around on a single leg, making him instantly more well-rounded than any of his brethren. They’re fascinating to watch but they’re also comically dumb-looking.
Kosakovskiy’s cows, on the other hand, must have a great publicist. They get treatment usually reserved for their equine counterparts, including sweeping music and slow motion helicopter shots. These may be the most majestic cows ever presented in cinema.
There is virtually no human presence in Gunda; an out-of-focus person in the distant background and a farm vehicle that’s obviously not driving itself are the only exceptions. Of course, that’s ignoring the cameras; they’re not operating themselves either. They are just as curious as the young piglets, poking and roving low to the ground and close to the animals. There are concerns, then, about the observer effect but, for what it’s worth, these animals don’t seem especially bothered by the constantly buzzing flies and those get even closer, landing on bodies, faces and even eyeballs.
Gunda is stunning, immersive and endlessly compelling. It’s the rare documentary that feels truly openminded, as opposed to thesis-driven. Kosakovskiy doesn’t have lessons to impart or axes to grind; he’s inviting us to learn along with him. That doesn’t mean, however, that Gunda isn’t likely to change minds. For one thing, it may very well inspire a switch to vegetarianism in a number of viewers.