Gunda | Review
That’ll Do, Pig: Animal Farm IRL
Viktor Kossakovsky brings us an astonishing triptych of pigs, cows and chickens in Gunda, his poignant evocation of life as a farm animal. Executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix, this sumptuous meditation opts for lush black & white over color, skirts dialogue & music in favor of SFX and willfully reduces plot to bare minimum—all in favor of experiential cinema. If this sounds boring, caveat emptor: Gunda is an art film, and requires the right mindset to appreciate its full depth. Beneath the visual poetry lies an allegory with the emotional arc and existential undertones of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Gunda’s beauty stems from its minimalism: there’s no British-guy narration, no mother-pig explanation when she steps forcefully on her infant piglet. Is she culling the runt of the litter? Instead of answers, Kossakovsky offers painterly landscapes: mist hangs, shadows loom, light glimmers, dust flies. Pigs wallow in chiaroscuro as if auditioning for The Godfather; herds march through their own rustic jungle à la Band of Brothers. Roosters descend from their pen in slow motion much like First Man’s Armstrong and Aldrin—and, in DeMille-worthy close-ups, raptor-like claws stalk an underbrush straight out of Jurassic Park. (And yes, confirming the fear voiced by Napoleon Dynamite, the chickens do have large talons.)
These creatures ooze talent. Given unexpected star turns by Viktor Kossakovsky and Egil Håskjold Larsen’s sensitive cameras, they inspire both fascination and laughter. Cows parallel park side-by-side, head-to-tail, swatting flies off each other in a form of moo-tual grooming. The perseverance of a one-legged chicken, determined to find its next meal, feels more human than animal. The pigs’ hefty close-ups remind us of our own high-carb peccadilloes. But Gunda is far more than cute voyeurism: this is cinematic storytelling at its purest, an exploration of empathy amplified by the looming threat of slaughter. The joy of cows leaping and skipping after release from their pen—unaware of how short-lived their freedom will be—feels painfully like life before Covid-19.
Praise notwithstanding, be prepared. Despite its merciful 93 minutes, Gunda is slow; even the pigs yawn. Either way, fans of the extended pie-eating scene in A Ghost Story will love it.) Whatever your approach, this film is worth it. Where else will you experience the emotional ending of Les Quatres Cent Coups through the eyes of a pig? In sum, Gunda feels as if an alien God put the human race under a microscope—and for some, it may change your perspective. Or at least turn you Vegan.