White God

White God, drama, rated R, in Hungarian with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

A girl wear­ing a blue hoodie, with a trum­pet stick­ing out of her back­pack, ped­als her bike along a dream­scape of de­serted city streets. From time to time she glances over her shoul­der. A few blocks be­hind her, a dog rounds the cor­ner, lop­ing in slow mo­tion. An­other fol­lows, and then more. Soon the streets are full of dogs, hun­dreds of them, rac­ing in a pack to­ward her, over­tak­ing her.

Hungarian direc­tor Kornél Mun­druczó uses a dog’s life as a sav­age metaphor for the op­pres­sion and bru­tal­iz­ing of the poor and pow­er­less in a Europe where xeno­pho­bic hos­til­ity is on the rise. It is a movie that ought to come with a warn­ing sticker, lest gen­tle an­i­mal lovers wan­der in ex­pect­ing The In­cred­i­ble Jour­ney.

White God (the ti­tle will puz­zle you un­til you connect it with Sa­muel Fuller’s White Dog, a 1982 movie about a dog trained to attack black peo­ple) be­gins as a girl-and-her-dog story, but it doesn’t take long be­fore we get hints that this will not be a warm and fuzzy tale. A scene in which we meet her fa­ther in the slaugh­ter­house where he works as a meat in­spec­tor is enough to send you scream­ing into the arms of ve­g­ans.

Teenaged Lili (Zsó­fia Psotta) is dumped on her fa­ther, Dániel (Sán­dor Zsótér), when her mother goes off for an ex­tended con­fer­ence. Dániel is not pleased, es­pe­cially when Lili brings along her beloved Ha­gen, a large red mon­grel (played by sib­lings Luke and Bodie). When it turns out that he will have to pay a tax im­posed by the Hungarian gov­ern­ment on dogs that are not pure­bred, Dániel un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously dumps Ha­gen along the high­way.

The story bi­fur­cates at this point, one path fol­low­ing Lili and her ado­les­cent angst, the other fol­low­ing Ha­gen and his ca­nine tribu­la­tions. Ha­gen has the rougher time of it, fall­ing into the hands of un­scrupu­lous hu­mans who may cause you to re­flect on the sins of Michael Vick and his dog-fight­ing hor­rors.

The movie is clearly headed to­ward a re­u­nion of Lili and Ha­gen, but the route it takes is un­ex­pected and harsh, and the des­ti­na­tion at best is bit­ter­sweet.

The act­ing, in­clud­ing the screen de­but of young Psotta, is fine but not re­mark­able. The dogs are the tail that wags this movie, and that eerily dream­like open­ing se­quence pays off with a stunning cli­max as the pack of dogs, 271 of them — and all real, not a CGI im­poster among them — comes stam­ped­ing through the streets of Bu­dapest. Amer­i­can trainer Teresa Miller as­sem­bled and worked with the ca­nine per­form­ers, and it is com­fort­ing to know that no dogs were harmed, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the grisly dog­fight scenes, and all were sub­se­quently adopted.

— Jonathan Richards

Pack­ing it in: Zsó­fia Psotta

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