Adelaide Film Festival 2020: Gunda

What: Gunda (Dir: Victor Kossakovsky)
Next Screening: 24 October @ Palace Nova East End

I had to see Gunda based on the premise that it would be a film depicting animals on their own terms, without the anthropomorphism commonly drawn on by animal documentaries – giving them human feelings and identities under the presumption that they prescribe to them.

I always found this an enticing, but challenging premise to live up to. As films are made by humans, for humans how do you remove a human perspective and credibly introduce another perspective? The answer I got from Gunda was: ‘as best as you can and that’s good enough’.

First impressions of the film, and leading into the film hinted at ways this could unfold. The promotional material featured still, monochrome shots which suggested to me a lot of visual abstraction – stripping back extraneous and suggestive details leaving room to see things anew. Even the title font suggested a silent film, relying heavily on gestures and expressions to convey meaning.

Both these and more feature throughout Gunda and are used effectively. From the opening in a pig pen onwards, a lot of the film occurs at animal scale – the pen seems to be world-sized from the close up view of piglets, and what comes across is a greater sense of the chaotic bustle of the moments after a litter is born. You’re unsure of what could happen at any moment and, sure enough, some unexpected moments pop up with the timing of a horror film. This is balanced out with long, meandering stills of the pigs living out their days, and the audience is left to take in the many little interactions that happen in each scene.

While the pigs are the main focus of Gunda, there are shorter cuts to the other animals of the farm. A feature on the cows makes great use of noise and stillness, while a particularly jurassic chicken-scale segment was one of my favourite in the film. 

The film wasn’t a mind altering experience – but watching it, I didn’t get the impression that it wanted to be, and perhaps this was the fault of how it was promoted. The patience of the shots provided plenty of time to appreciate the autonomy of the animals which culminated, without seeming forced in plenty of moments of empathy for the animals, and that was good enough. 


– Tin Do

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