The cute piglets, the caring sow, the brave chicken: even the adjectives are attributions. We humans tell the world from a human perspective. But how can the world be told from the perspective of a pig, a poultry, a cow without us transforming the animals?
Russian filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky tried it. He places the camera in the stable or directly in front of it and leaves it there with his protagonists. With Gunda, the mother sow, whose face peeks out of the wooden shed, small eyes, long snout and snout nose, while her piglets stagger outside – and back to the mother’s teats. It looks funny how they suck, push, lie together, and it’s a fight.
Some are still wet from birth: not all of these tiny creatures with the gossamer bristles will make it. The Steadycam discreetly captures how Gunda first digs an all too weak, slimy child out of the straw and then gives him the coup de grace with her hooves.
“Gunda”, premiered at the Berlinale in 2020, is not an ordinary farm film, but a viewing from the stable floor perspective, in other words: at eye level with the farm animals. No voiceover, no people, no music, instead an animal symphony: grunts, cackles, hums, squeaks in Dolby Atmos, primed by the host of insects, the wind and distant street noises.
The soundtrack accompanies the growing up of the piglets, the first excursions, the cooling bath in the mud. Or the mother’s nostrils, who patiently insists that the offspring, sniffing and digging, will soon find food for themselves. Now and then she lies down to suckle the little ones. Your udder is full.
Victor Kossakovsky, born in 1961, comes from St. Petersburg, lives in Berlin and makes peculiar poetic documentaries, productions such as “¡Vivan las Antipodas!” Or “Aquarela”, in which he explores natural and environmental phenomena without ever becoming an activist . The black-and-white film “Gunda” is not an animal rights pamphlet, but a meditation that pays homage to the brittle beauty of the moment when, for example, the sun conjures up stains on the bristle dress. Or when the camera (which was led by Kossakovsky and Egil Haskjold Larsen) watches the chickens as they step out of their free-range crate and carefully stalk through grass and bushes as if the meadow were an alien planet. It goes to the heart when the one-legged chicken takes a run when crossing a tree trunk, hops, flutters, wants to fly.
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Kossakovksy calls “Gunda” his most personal film to date. For many years he tried in vain for funding (now Joaquim Phoenix is executive producer). As a child he had spent some time in the country, and Vasya, his best friend in the village, had landed on the plates as pork schnitzel on New Year’s Eve. Since then, the director and cameraman has distrusted killing people. We shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously, he thinks. And at least admit that animals also have a consciousness, an emotional life, different from ours, but just as precious. A soul.
That sounds cheesy, but the film shot on farms in Norway, Spain and England isn’t. Even the black and white creates a certain sobriety, as does the agricultural ambience. And Kossakovsky looks so carefully that sentimentality doesn’t even arise. Disheveled poultry with bare necks, jerking, twitching, they are bizarre, strange creatures.
Or the old cows with their overgrown horns, as they group in pairs in the pasture to wag the flies off each other with their tails. Biological reflex or empathy among four-legged friends? Either way, a rare sight: cows are usually slaughtered before they age.
Animals can’t mourn? Gunda, the mother sow, experiences a real tragedy
Sometimes Gunda’s pig’s head takes on almost magical traits in the backlight. She is the main character, a Norwegian by the way. One soon feels close to her, identifies with her like a human movie heroine. She was the first at the casting, says Kossakovsky in interviews they came across. He knew immediately: “We have found our Meryl Streep.”
A tractor approaches her stable, a transporter is maneuvered backwards to the entrance – and Gunda experiences a drama on the scale of a Greek tragedy. Anyone who still believes that animals cannot mourn or despair has no eyes in their head (although the viewer secretly hopes that the scene is “only” recreated from reality and does not show any current events).
Gunda is better off in real life, Kossakovsky also says. She can enjoy her old age on the farm, no longer has to raise piglets and is not slaughtered. Being allowed to grow old is a rarity in the world of pigs too.
From Thursday in 9 Berlin cinemas