Title: White God
Director: Kornel Mundruczo
Major Players: Zsofia Psotta, Luke, Body
Out Of Five: Four
It’s mixing metaphors, I know, but dogs are having their day this week – cinematically anyway. On the big screen, there’s family movie Max and I’ll be reviewing that later in the week but, before then, Hungarian award winner White God is released on DVD tomorrow – and it’s right at the other end of the spectrum.
Filmed in Budapest, it opens with sinister silence. The city is deserted. No cars on the streets, except for abandoned ones, and the only movement comes from a solitary girl riding a bike over the bridge towards the camera. Then slowly a rumble turns to a thunder, as a huge pack of dogs hurtles at breakneck speed towards her. But what will happen when they catch up with her?
We’re then taken back to the story that leads up to that point. Lili (Zsofia Psotta) and her much-loved dog Hagen have gone to stay with her father, but her mongrel is less than welcome in the apartment block and her father throws him out. The girl searches for her beloved pet to no avail, while he passes through a number of cruel hands, until he ends up in the dog pound. He seizes an opportunity to escape, one that frees all the other dogs and gives him the opportunity for revenge against the people who’ve harmed him.
The setting is a city where pedigree dogs are favoured over mongrels, which are subject to heavy taxation. The only dogs we see with their owners are obviously pedigrees: mixed breeds are dumped on the streets to live rough and keep the dog catchers in work. And the animal shelters are full to bursting. So, on the surface, it’s all about the bond between human and animal, in this case Lili and her dog: it never goes away but Hagen’s experiences teach him that man isn’t always a dog’s best friend. You can also read a slew of social parallels into the dogs’ escape, but the essence is that the downtrodden will revolt one way or another. The quote from 20th century poet Rainer Maria Rilke at the start of the film takes you down another road: “Everything terrible is something that needs our love.”
It’s not always an easy watch. Socially conscious it may be, but it’s also part thriller and part horror. Hagen’s revenge is bloody and there’s some wince making moments, especially when you see what was once a friendly dog with his muzzle covered with blood. He’s become the leader of the pack, mainly because he found the way out of the pound. They’re like an invading force, sneaking silently into homes and announcing their arrival with a low growl.
The dogs, the acting and the way Lili’s and Hagen’s stories run in parallel until they converge are all superbly executed, but it’s the cinematography that’s the real jaw dropper. That first sequence in the silent city gives a flavour of what to expect, although there’s a long wait before we’re hit with it. But it’s spectacular. The dogs’ rampage through the streets in breath taking fashion and the cinematography is off the scale, even if you’re watching on a small screen. You shake your head in wonder as to how the makers got the dogs to do the scenes in the first place.
There’s no explanation as such of the title, so it’s wide open for interpretation. For me, it all stems from that opening scene, with the dogs chasing after Lili. Hagen is supposed to be the pack leader, but she’s what he follows. Wait for the final sequence and you’ll see what I’m getting at, although you may not agree with me. But there’s no ambiguity about the quality of White God’s narrative and mouth watering photography. It’s a film with real bite.
White God is released on DVD on Monday, 3 August and is also reviewed on Talking Pictures.