Starring Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér
The most usual thing about White God, the official entry from Hungary for best foreign language film, is how it’s a “dog film” that probably will make dog lovers grimace. White God is part human drama and part dog thriller. Director Kornél Mundruczó masterfully gets a compelling performance from the lead dog called Hagen in the film (played by two twin dogs). There are beautifully edited scenes where it feels as if Hagen is truly acting and understands the script and plot. No visual effects were used, in fact, White God broke the record for most real dogs used in a feature film.
When her mother goes away for three months, 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) must live with her father Daniel (Sándor Zsótér). Unhappy with the accompaniment of Lili’s dog Hagen, Daniel put the dog out when Lili refuses to take him to a shelter. As the young girl is torn from her dog, Hagen starts a dangerous new journey, as he is captured and beaten, forced to fight other dogs for survival. Lili never stops looking for Hagen, despite the negative and reckless effect his separation is having on her personality. Hagen and the hundreds of other stray dogs in the city ban together like military and seek revenge from those who have abandoned or abused them.
Part human drama and part dog thriller.
The script for White God never really explores how and why Lili is so close to Hagen. Apparently we are to assume as a single child, with busy parents and an introverted personality, Hagen became her closest ally. White God could have been told from the dog’s point of view entirely, would have been a different film, but it’s broken up between the girl and dog narrative, staging almost a battle between man and beast. Another element the script doesn’t address is why Lili is so forgiving of a father that many viewers might find unforgiving. The first 90 minutes of the film create a unique world of sympathy for our two lead characters.
It’s everything past the 90 minutes that wears the viewer out. The animal cruelty, the overreaching fantastical elements. White God turns into Homeward Bound on steroids as the animals are portrayed as having a nearly magical sense of purpose or intelligence. When the dogs turn into organized hunters, the shots of 50+ dogs in one scene is fascinating, but the film nearly loses its structure and narrative as a result. Mundruczó returns to the opening shot of the film, a city in hiding from the dangerous strays, a play on a zombie film that comes across as a gimmick more so than a dramatic moment. White God ends as a burdensome story that is about 20 minutes too long.
Despite the creativity using dogs as characters, White God ends up tedious and likely unwatchable for dog owners.