White God (2014) Film Review from the 58th Annual BFI London Film Festival, a movie directed by Kornél Mundruczó, starring Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth, Szabolcs Thuróczy, Lili Monori, Gergely Bánki, and Tamás Polgár.
A film about dogs is rarely as gory and bloody as White God. I’ll admit the prospect of seeing a film largely revolving around a dog was less than appealing. However, the prologue made me reconsider my stance. The film opens up with what appears to be a dream sequence. A girl, on a bicycle, is being chased by a pack of wild dogs. She doesn’t seem frightened; she isn’t peddling quickly. If anything, she seems to be the leader, acting as a pied piper of dogs. The girl, Lilli (Zsófia Psotta), and her involvement in all this is made clear soon afterwards.
Lilli, accompanied by her dog Hagen, is sent to stay with her father (Sándor Zsótér) while her mother attends a conference in Australia. It becomes clear early on that Hagen is an un-welcomed guest and he is quickly sent away. Dog lovers in the audience will surely hate seeing such an adorable pooch treated so harshly, yet, this is only a fraction of the pain Hagen will have to endure over the course of the film.
Constantly on the run, either from the municipal dog catchers or the various unscrupulous people he encounters through his travels. He is eventually captured and trained to be a ‘fighting dog.’ Severe beatings ensue, until he is broken. The film continues to become progressively darker, with any happy ending seeming more and more unlikely. Hagen, now completely remade, is a completely different animal now; his soft, cuddly demeanour, now a distant memory. The film tugs at our heart-strings to the point where we actively want Hagen to break free and have his revenge on his captors.
Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó uses White God as an allegory for the way humanity treats itself. The cruelty people are capable of is hardly a new topic, however, using a group of cute animals to explore it is the approach that White God is built around. Mundruczó takes the audience on a spiritual journey of sorts and allows us to see these various social issues through more innocent eyes.
Though effectively used as a parable about human cruelty, the film feels diluted. It feels as though, in an effort to make the film longer, several scenes were added that don’t relate at all to the film’s narrative; making the film feel disjointed. The shaky camera technique used on occasion was awful, especially in contrast to the beautiful, serene shots that were used intermittently. The score feels heavy and attempts to add drama even when there is no need for it. Admittedly using animals to tell a story isn’t easy, unless you’re Disney. However, it seems apparent that the director was trying to accomplish more than was possible. With all due credit to the actors, especially the animal actors, the film fails to accomplish its ultimate goal. There is a lot of sub-text in the film, and though the film contains moments that will mesmerize those who view it, it’s ultimately falls flat. It honestly feels like a light version of Planet of the Apes (1968, Reboot 2001), especially after the dogs eventually rise up.
The film shifts from drama to horror with tremendous ease during its second and third act. Scenes of dogs running wild on the streets and terrorizing people were surprisingly enjoyable, given all we had witnessed up until that point. All in all, the film was reasonable. Not thoroughly enjoyable, but not torture to watch either. White God was something you would watch late at night on TV, but perhaps not pay to go see.