Reel Dad: A mother pig’s story ‘Gunda’ delights at New York Film Festival

"Gunda" was screened during the New York Film Festival.

"Gunda" was screened during the New York Film Festival.

New York Film Festival / Contributed photo

Every year, the New York Film Festival brings the best of cinema to Lincoln Center.

And, while this year’s event is primarily a virtual experience, the excellence of its roster confirms how creative cinema can be.

Over the years I have savored this festival, I have rarely found myself as captivated as by “Gunda,” a loveable documentary about a mother pig who loves her piglets. This entry from filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky reminds us that movies don’t need special effects, dramatic dialogue or even much of a story to transport us to a different place. From the opening moments of “Gunda,” we cherish this chance to celebrate how any mother cares for her offspring.

The film, shot in beautifully-rendered black and white, begins with the mother pig, Gunda, getting ready to give birth to her latest litter. Considering that pigs can have two litters each year, bringing baby pigs into the world is something this mother clearly knows how to do. As each precious piglet enters her world, this mother demonstrates she is clearly in command, using her commanding presence to define her circle of life. One by one, the baby pigs struggle to find their pathways through the hay to savor their first moments as they start to wonder what life in this new world may bring.

We’re on Gunda’s side from the start, as she helps her offspring find their footsteps through the farm, protecting each piglet from the natural elements, showing them how to cool off, and offering that special brand of maternal love that any parent wants to express. When one gets lost in the hay, we see how resourceful this caring mother can be. She senses that something’s not right as she begins to frantically search through the twigs for the offspring hidden by the hay. And when she discovers and saves this pig, we sense the pride and relief that any parent will experience when protecting someone we love. Over time, the pigs grow, routines form, and the passages of life continue. We are treated, as well, to other sights on the land, including a brief visit with a one-legged chicken as well as rebellious cows. But our focus remains on the pigs as we observe the cycle that, ultimately, calls for mother and children to adjust to change.

Without narration, dialogue or conventional plotting, “Gunda” surrounds us with the beauty of its images and the filmmaker’s ability to simply observe how these souls relate to each other. And we learn, through the moments these animals share, how we may take our food supply for granted. Without voice-over dialogue to express their thoughts, these special characters let us into their worlds of security, pleasure, disappointment and fear. Spending 90 minutes with Gunda may not change your diet, but it may make you more aware of what it takes for that loin of pork to be delivered to a plate.

The New York Film Festival runs through Oct. 11.

“Gunda” runs 1 hour, 33 minutes, and is rated G. It will be available on streaming services.