How stripped down can a narrative be before it becomes an experiment in the Kuleshov effect? Gunda, the latest film Viktor Kossakovsky (Aquarela), puts that to the test by cutting the film off from the human world for as long as possible. Gunda takes its title from the lead – a beautiful sow who starts the movie by giving birth to a litter of pigs. While the film makes dalliances with exploring the stories of a one-legged chicken and a field of cows, the film is mostly a chronicle of a young mother raising her young.
If anything is to be taken away from Gunda, it’s from Kossakovsky’s endless capacity for connection no matter the subject. By pairing the film down to the barest of essentials, it’s even easier to get drawn into the picturesque Norweigan farm. The black and white cinematography is harsh but exposes the majesty of every raindrop and every blade of grass. The standout element of the film is the sound design done by Alexandr Dudarev. Dudarev has crafted an epic soundscape that relies solely on natural ingredients to hypnotize the viewer and make that vital connection between humans and animals. Without the soundscape, Gunda would lose a bit of the lifeblood that drives it, leaving viewers grasping for more of a semblance of a narrative or some meat on the bone.
To disclose any more about Gunda would do a disservice to the film, but make no mistake Gunda is a far cry from any animal video you can find on YouTube. Instead, what Kossakobsky has done is to portray the raw emotions that are instinctive in all species. The film almost has a deliberately anti-human touch with its reluctance to shoot at any angle that the farm life could not access and lack score to manipulate moviegoers. This message does carry the risk of boring the audience into apathy. However, if a viewer comes into Gunda with patience and an open mind, they’re opening their hearts to a film with an impact long after the credits roll and one of the most startling final sequences ever put in a documentary.
Reviewed by Cassie Jo Ochoa