Anyone going into director Viktor Kosakovskiy’s Gunda expecting to see a customary nature documentary will be very disappointed. That Gunda is not your typical nature documentary, however, is a good thing. There is no human voice narrating the “action;” hence there is no anthropomorphizing of the animals or their “motivations.” There are no quick edits that jump from animal to animal in an effort to satisfy short attention spans. There are no “action” sequences of lions chasing water buffaloes. Kosakovskiy allows the animals—pigs, cows, and a one-legged chicken–to take centerstage and dictate things at their pace.
Gunda is filmed in black and white. The play of light and shadow upon the animals, the dark intimacy of their enclosures and pens, and their roaming about in the light of day gives Gunda an otherworldliness, a timelessness, a feeling of time lived and not measured by ticks on a clock or months on a calendar. The pacing is slow, but your patience is rewarded by breathtaking moments, too many to count. One such moment involves the careful, deliberate step of a chicken. Never before in the history of film has a suspended claw in midair, coming down, and finally meeting with soil been captured in such dramatic fashion. Kosakovskiy captures the exact moment a sow is awakened by her hungry piglets. A mad scramble for their mother’s milk ensues. These scenes of piglets maneuvering for a better position in hopes of obtaining milk from their mother’s nipple are intimate, primal, and yet beautiful.
Gunda presents a world of wonder for a human species that has forgotten how to find wonder in other species. Humans all too often see animals in terms of agricultural standing reserve, profit, and efficient exploitation. Gunda presents these animals with dignity, with a vitality that goes beyond economic exploitation. Cows stare at the camera, at us, in their eyes the sublime mystery of a consciousness we will never fully understand. There is also an unexpected scene in which a passing storm allows the pigs a chance to drink rainwater as it falls from the sky. As beautiful as the images in Gunda may be, it is the sounds created by these animals and their natural surroundings that steal the show. Gunda’s pacing allows us to focus on a rich cacophony on non-human, non-industrial, and non-technological sounds—the squeal of piglets, the steps of a chicken upon soil, the buzzing of insects, and the varied songs of birds beyond the camera frame.
Gunda makes you think about human time and its pacing. Watch the news and you become aware of the hyperkinetic pacing of humans—breaking news, disasters every minute, murders by the second, constant updates on our phones. Our phones buzz, traffic lights change, work demands make us move about hastily, and the hurly-burly of late capitalism captures us in its hyper-speed as our thoughts jump from one thing to another without pause. Nature moves at a different pace. When you go on a hike or even sit in your backyard you notice that nature is slower, more deliberate. You also find that your mind and your senses slow down and become keener. Once you allow nature’s clock to converge with your own clock, you may find yourself more aware of the sounds around you, the sights around you, and you are more likely to catch a wondrous natural event. Gunda offers us many of those wondrous events.
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