Streaming service users love animal documentaries. They enjoy the hustle and bustle around the ex-big cat owner Joe Exotic (Tiger King) and admire hippos while surfing together with ex-president Barack Obama (Our wonderful national parks). Now they can get to know ex-villa owner Gunther.
Gunther IV is a German shepherd who is said to have inherited a fortune and wanted to sell Madonna’s former estate at the end of 2021. A dog selling a property? Sounds funny, thought to himself Mirror-Journalist Hannes Schrader, after media worldwide, including the ARD magazine explosive and the Picture, reported about Gunther. Schrader shared his suspicions with Frederik von Castell, a journalist with Medienkritik-Magazin overmedia. His research confirmed that the media have been fooled by a lie for years.
The Italian pharmacologist Maurizio Mian, who himself inherited a large fortune, thought up a fairy tale about his fortune and his dog: Gunther was the beloved shepherd dog of a German countess who, after her death in 1991, bequeathed her entire inheritance to her dog. Mian was chosen by her to be the legal guardian of money and dog. Castell uncovered this story as a PR stunt that Mian had used to generate media attention for his dog for over thirty years. The revelation led to the report being withdrawn, a first in Gunther’s media career: “The story is false,” announced the Associated Press news agency, on whose false report the journalists had trusted.
“I fell in love with the dog, honestly.”
Almost a year and a half later, there is now a documentary about the PR fairy tale. With this one, however, filmmakers Aurelien Leturgie and Emilie Dumay support the rich dog’s narrative instead of deconstructing it: Even Castell, who criticized the journalists in the SZ interview in 2021, who blindly took over the agency report, wrote to Übermedien that this time he almost fell for it himself. Because in the documentary, Gunther’s luxury life is shown so credibly for three episodes, including gilded steak, private jet and archive pictures of the supposed countess, that he began to doubt his own research.
Leturgie and Dumay unravel the web of lies far too carelessly. Only in the fourth and final episode does Mian, almost casually, admit that there never was a countess. The dog originally belonged to his childhood sweetheart Antonella (“I fell in love with the dog, honestly”). When Gunther died in 2005, but the alleged inheritance had long been circulating in the media, Mian replaced him with a dog from the same bloodline, Gunther V. Later he even founded a company that bred other ancestors. Anything to keep the lie going. Thanks to the story, Mian not only benefited from the PR hype, but, according to her own statements, was also able to use it to cover up tax evasion and carry out questionable social experiments, as the documentary reveals.
“My dog was used as a circus clown,” Antonella regrets the machinations of her ex-partner. It’s one of the few scenes in the documentary where Mian is criticized. This repeats a pattern that has already been used by other Netflix productions such as Tiger King is known: The case is primarily illuminated from one side. And Mian staged as a victim of his depression who is only looking for happiness: “As soon as you mix reality and fiction, joy is possible. Which creature can be happier than a dog?” Not only does Mian mix reality and fiction, the documentary doesn’t draw any clear boundaries either. If you don’t pay close attention, you believe in the fairy tale of the rich shepherd dog.
Gunther’s millionsfour episodes, on Netflix.
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