WHITE GOD (2014)
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Hungarian film is a heart-wrenching drama turned revenge fantasy that features some amazing acting from it’s canine star and cast. Film tells of teen Lili (Zsófia Psotta) who is forced to live with her estranged jerk of a dad (Sándor Zsótér) when her mom (Lili Horváth) leaves for three months for a work assignment. Along with Lili is her sweet mongrel Hagen (performed by dogs, Luke and Body) who, her father takes an instant disliking to. When a neighbor reports the dog, her father refuses to pay the fee and instead throws poor Hagen out on the street. While Lili searches for him, it begins a brutal odyssey for the abandoned dog, as it tries to survive on the harsh streets, that leads him to the cruel world of dog fighting, heartless animal shelters and ultimately, revenge.
White God is a very unique film written and directed by Kornél Mundruczó. While it does resemble Rise Of The Planet of the Apes in it’s last act, it is the haunting portray of it’s canine players by real dogs that sets this apart from that CGI heavy flick. The film is at it’s most powerful in it’s first two thirds, where we witness the cruelties of man’s world on the more innocent of it’s inhabitants. Hagen is thrown out onto unforgiving streets, is caught and sold to dog fighters and slowly trained from a sweet pooch into a lethal fighting machine renamed Max. It’s these sequences that are toughest to watch but, we get a surprising pay-off as Hagen has had enough or man’s cruelties. Mundruczó masterfully captures his star canine’s emotions with his camera as the animal endures much…and he is unflinching when it comes to the portrayal of what he endures and then when he uses his new lethal skills to turn the tables. Meanwhile, Lili searches for him and starts a little rebellion of her own, when Hagen seems lost for good. All portrayed very powerfully by Mundruczó as with dog and human subjects alike. If the film has any drawbacks, it does loose a bit of it’s potency when it goes full-on bloody revenge movie with packs of dogs moving through the streets in support of Hagen, as he hunts down those who wronged him. It doesn’t quite have the power of what came earlier, despite doing well to stay as grounded as possible. It does, however, recapture that potency for it’s final scene which, despite all of the brutality, blood-spilling and violence that has come before it, has a subtle beauty to it and will moisten even the driest eye. Sure, it’s not perfect. Not every scene works to it’s maximum potential and there are certainly questions raised, but, overall, it’s a very effective movie that exhibits the passion for it’s story by it’s maker.
The cast is excellent, too, in support of Kornél Mundruczó, on both the two legged and four legged levels. Lili Horváth is very endearing as the tough and rebellious Lili whose only real friend seems to be Hagen and the actress and director establish their bond very quickly, but, without melodramatic sentimentality. This is not a Disney film. Horváth also excellently portrays a teen in full rebellion, especially after her father cruelly separates her from her best friend. Sándor Zsótér is very good as that father and while he is quite believable as a selfish jerk early on, he also makes a convincing transformation when Lili’s rebellious behavior starts to get through to him. If an Academy Award can be given to animals, Luke and Body deserve one for their combined portrayal of Hagen. The emotion from these animals, as Hagen goes from beloved pet, to homeless stray, to vicious fighting dog, to rebel leader, is astounding and expertly captured by director Mundruczó. We love Hagen regardless of the changes in him and…hell, yea!…root for him as he hunts down those responsible for his pain.
Aside from a few chinks in it’s armor, this is a fascinating and heart-wrenching film. It is amazing how much emotion Kornél Mundruczó gets from his star pooches and how much emotion these four legged wonders portray. The film is also very unflinching in it’s portrayal of how cruelly our four legged friends can be treated but, is equally unflinching when every dog has it’s day. A unique and very effective film from Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó and one I highly recommend. Be advised…if you are an animal/dog lover there are a lot of rough scenes portrayed here but, the pay-off is worth enduring them for!
3 and 1/2 Hagens.