The Weekend Australian - Review
The secret life of livestock
Like Collective (above), Norwegian documentary Gunda is probably screening in cinemas only to fill a distribution gap, but it’s another strikingly good film.
Put simply, it’s the story of a pig — but this is no Babe. Stunningly well photographed in black and white, the film is about a sow named Gunda that gives birth to a dozen piglets. The tiny creatures emerge from their mother and automatically seek out the big sow’s teats. When they are first born they naturally rely on their mother for life itself, but as time goes by and they become gradually bigger they become less reliant.
There’s nothing unusual about any of this; in fact it’s the ordinary, everyday depiction of life on an average farm that gives the film its potency. Without even an emotive music track, the film — directed by Victor Kossakovsky, who was also responsible for the outstanding, highcontrast photography (in collaboration with Egil Haskjold Larsen) — seems content to observe the lives of these farm animals.
Once in a while other domestic creatures appear. A herd of cows is assailed by persistent flies until they apparently discover an ingenious way of keeping the pests at bay. Some scrawny chickens pop up, curious and nosy; one of them has only one leg.
But these animals seem almost unnecessary additions to the film, given that the focus is on the pigs, who — before our eyes — grow up, mature, evolve. We watch them feed, quarrel among themselves and even fight one another. One of them, the runt of the litter, is usually left behind.
Meanwhile the enormous sow goes placidly about her business, occasionally checking to see that her offspring are behaving themselves.
Human beings are not seen but their presence is very much felt, especially towards the end of what proves to be a surprisingly moving film. The mood is poetic — the sumptuous images are certainly seductive and mesmerising — but the underlying theme is to remind us that these animals are being raised for a reason.
It’s interesting to discover, thanks to the end credits, that what seems to have been a film made on a single farm was actually shot in three countries (Norway, Spain and Britain), countries with such different landscapes that the fact the film appears to have a unified location is all the more remarkable.