2014, R, 121 min. Directed by Kornél Mundruczó. Starring Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth, Luke, Body.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., April 10, 2015
The winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Kornél Mundruczó’s White God finally arrives on domestic shores, and it is every bit the beguiling work that that particular award recognizes. Blending political allegory with the tropes of teen coming-of-age films, White God begins as a tale about a girl separated from her dog, and ends up being the Battleship Potemkin of canine mutiny.
Lili (Psotta) is a music student in Prague who goes to stay with her estranged father, Dániel (Zsoter) when her mother has to go abroad for a conference. A bit of a loner, Lili’s best friend is Hagen, a mixed-breed dog who’s as loyal as they come. When a combination of societal pressure and resentment causes Dániel to turn Hagen loose into the streets of Prague, that’s when this Incredible Journey begins. Alternating between Lili navigating the world of adulthood and Hagen traversing the world of homeless dogs (with the help of a scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier), the film diverges into two complementary narrative threads: Lili’s burgeoning adulthood and Hagen’s descent into the brutality of life on the streets, especially after he’s been nabbed by an underground dogfight trainer, and forced to participate in those barbaric bouts.
Eschewing CGI, the director coaxes performances from, in some sequences, 280 dogs running around the streets of Budapest, but mostly we follow Hagen (played by two dogs, Luke and Body), and the performance that Mundruczó gets from these leading dogs (with the help of trainers, of course) is nothing short of amazing. It’s tempting to become exhausted playing “how did they do that?” but thankfully, the story is so compelling, you forget you’re watching dogs act; the craftsmanship of this film is that stunning. There is a vagueness to Mundruczó’s theme, incorporating eugenics, classism, and the struggles of the oppressed, but it works because of the amazing performances and the risky, genre-defying filmmaking that he throws into this kitchen-sink narrative. As an always-welcome entry into the “oppressed will insurrect,” genre, White God is not only a superlative film, but a feat of kinetic filmmaking that is rarely seen. Call the shelter; this one’s a keeper.