White God (Cert 15)
1 Discs DVD (Distributor: Metrodome) Running Time: 116 minutes approx.
Dog is supposed to be man’s best friend, an epithet earned for the loyalty and reciprocal affection canines show to their human owners. Yet man is not beyond mistreating these kind creatures and sooner or later their animal instinct will take over and the results won’t be pretty.
White God, the sixth feature film from Hungarian actor, writer and director Kornél Mundruczó, explores this possibility, creating a canine version of sorts in a similar vein to the recent Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes reboot with a touch of Hitchcock’s The Birds thrown in for good measure. However look deeper and we find a scathing allegory for the mistreatment of and discrimination against the less fortunate in a disenfranchised society.
At the centre of this story is Hagen, the beloved pet dog of thirteen year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta), who is forced to live with her estranged father Daniel (Sándor Zsótér) while her mother takes a three month trip to Australia. Daniel isn’t too receptive to Hagen staying with them as well since the Hungarian government passed a tax on half breed dogs. Following a series of misadventures caused by the dog, Daniel snaps and dumps Hagen in the middle of nowhere but Lili vows to find him again.
That is the sentimental Disney-esque portion of the film dealt with, complete with an emotionally stirring musical soundtrack as Hagen is left alone by the roadside, the rest of the film is anything but. Hagen initially finds a little friend to wander the streets with until the dog catchers show up and are separated. He is then found by a homeless man (János Derzsi) but is quickly sold on to a dodgy crook, ending up in the hands of an ex-criminal (Szabolcs Thuróczy) and is put through an abusive training regime to toughen him up as a fighting dog
Mundruczó may be attempting to deliver an Animal Farm level metaphor with this film but where Orwell’s tale was built on subtlety White God, like the rebellious dogs in the final act, goes straight for the jugular. Then again times have changed since Orwell’s days so such a direct method is required to shock what is now a fairly numbed audience into opening their eyes to his message.
While the main parable is fairly obvious what may be less clear are the parallels of Lili’s life without Hagen. The close bond between girl and canine is established early on, showing Hagen only being able to sleep when Lil plays the trumpet for him. After Hagen is abandoned Lili is true to her word and goes off in search of her beloved dog but her commitments to a youth orchestra intrude on her free time.
Slipping into typical teen mode, Lili mirrors Hagen by misbehaving and going off the rails now that she too has been freed from her leash. Boys, drink and errant drugs come into play, exacerbated by her frosty relationship with her father and the absence of Hagen in her life.
Despite being put through hell by the amoral opportunist scum of the streets and the uncompromising presence of the equally abusive dog catchers, Hagen is doing the better of the two. His toughening up as a fighter dog has at least given Hagen the confidence and killer instinct to fight back against his human oppressors. Leading a pack of two-hundred and fifty unwanted angry mutts from a dog compound, a canine revolution hits the streets of Budapest and carnage follows.
As we descend into horror mode, Mundruczó takes us on a palpably chilling and upsettingly bloody journey depicting the dog’s violent revolt but one could be forgiven that they were watching a dark satire instead. That is not to say the sight of two-hundred and fifty ferocious rampaging dogs doesn’t put the fear of god into you but when Hagen manages to lead them all to the venue where Lili’s orchestra are playing an important show, a bemusing snigger or two is likely to be your initial response.
However this unintentional mirth is short lived as the carnage begins in earnest, with tormentors from early in the film all getting a well deserved receipt for their actions. Even if you can’t take this set up seriously the visual spectacle is just that – an amazingly choreographed and perfectly executed piece of cinema. The sight of Lili peddling furiously on her bike to avoid being swarmed by the cascade of charging canine is beautifully captured.
Credit is due as much to the four legged cast – no CGI here folks, they’re all real dogs – as it is to the dog handlers and trainers who must have put in countless hours of work to get the realistic and obedient performances from the dogs. Similarly we must congratulate Bodie and Luke, the two dogs who played Hagen, for their convincing performances, as well as their co-stars in the horrifyingly realistic fight scenes. The dogs weren’t harmed but that doesn’t make this any easier to watch.
Unfortunately the human cast don’t fare so well. At the risk of sounding harsh the characters are thinly drawn and don’t engender the same sympathy as their canine counterparts. Zsófia Psotta is good in her role but Lili’s loss of her best friend isn’t explored deeply enough for the effect to be seen as believably devastating for her. Sándor Zsótér makes Daniel too unlikable as an early antagonist without explaining his objection to dogs while his later change of heart is clumsy in both execution and rationale.
These cavils are but small grievances and not enough to hold against the whole film, which is superbly shot, well paced and boldly executed. Even if the animal cruelty message alone strikes a chord, White God is film with a provocative bark and a ferociously impactful bite.
Hungarian Language 5.1 Surround Sound
Hungarian Language 2.0 Dolby
Behind The Scenes
Rating – ****
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