Trading in the awe-inspiring vistas of previous picture ‘Aquarela’, a globe-trotting documentary which explored the primal power of water, director Kossakovsky explores more intimate material with this attentive, meditative study of a collection of farm animals. In its own way this is just as wondrous.
It centres on Gunda, the titular stoic sow, who in lengthy takes, we see birthing a litter of piglets, then rearing them as they encounter the realities of life on the farm. Also featured are a duo of cows as they are released from a barn into a pasture, and, in the film’s most light-hearted moments, a plucky one-legged chicken exploring the boundaries of his enclosure.
Filmed in high contrast black and white, with the camera staying at the animal’s level, it’s a quietly captivating experience, complemented by Alexandr Dudarev’s immersive sound design, featuring buzzing, chirruping with the occasional ominous clang of machinery.
It's executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix, who memorably made a speech about animal artificial insemination when accepting his 2020 Oscar, but there’s nothing overtly didactic about the material. Whereas animals are normally presented to us in anthropomorphised form, or as signifiers of the cold indifference of nature a la Werner Herzog, Kossakovsky just chronicles the animals’ quotidian lives in an unvarnished manner and the end result feels revolutionary, even profound. Paradoxically animals are rarely as relatable and the conclusion is far more stirring.
Gunda is released on 4th June
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