DOCUMENTARY; 1hr 33min

DIRECTED BY: Viktor Kossakovsky

Strike a (piglet) pose

Picture the leisurely black-and-white scene. A pig lies in straw on an unnamed farm, apparently sleeping. Eventually she begins to snort in the pained way you would if you were a sow giving birth. Sure enough, out tumbles her litter of feisty, thirsty piglets. This small miracle of creation is captured up close and personal by Russian auteur Viktor Kossakovsky (Aquarela), a man sufficiently assured to linger all he likes with it. The effect of this studied viewpoint is incrementally hypnotic: when Gunda — for indeed it is she — gets to briefly chill at last, you are right there with her.


Next in line for the Kossakovsky treatment are strangely regal chickens who emerge from their coop with absurd grace to contemplate their woodsy kingdom. They do this at length, natch, with ambient bird calls, breezes and clucking as a soundtrack. One chook has one leg, on which she majestically hops.


What else? Not a whole lot. Gunda and her fam hang out, snorting, squealing, fossicking and cavorting in sun-dappled peace. (At least, the piglets cavort. Being more of an elder stateswoman, Gunda prefers to lumber and laze.) A herd of cows emerges from a shed, clearly stoked to be let loose. And so on. Just another day on a farm — or specifically, farms in Norway, Spain and Britain.


It’s worth noting that this American-Norwegian film was executive-produced by actor Joaquin Phoenix, who happens to be a vegan. But even for those who aren’t, what anyone would surely want for these soul-stirring creatures is for them to be left alone. Without a word being spoken, Kossakovsky illuminates an ideal in which animals exist on their own tranquil terms, only to slam home a reminder in the final devastating minutes of how deceptive that state of grace really is.