I’ve been looking forward to White God for some time, if for no other reason because it features so many dogs. Kornel Mundruczo’s film starts as family-friendly dog movie and quickly moves into The Birds territory. Easily malleable as a metaphor (for the immigrant experience? Hungarian uprising against oppressors? The adolescent fantasy of rebellion?), White God is also truly kinetic and it’s that racing energy that keeps things moving.
Lili (Zsofia Psotta) loves her dog Hagen. But her dad Daniel (Sandor Zsoter) doesn’t. Hagen is abandoned. Lili searches for him. And the dogs of Budapest start an uprising.
Maybe the best parts of White God are the scenes that filled only with barks, growls, paws scraping cement, and nothing resembling human language. It’s a challenge for Mundruczo to give us both the sympathetic and narrative elements of Hagen, et al, without many words but he does so easily via carefully planned (and difficult! I’ve worked with cats, dogs, and children…no easy task, the three of them) coverage, and of course hysterical reactions from Lili.
White God is oddly structured. At first blush it seems like it will be a sort of road film with Lili searching all over Hungary for her companion. But that’s not really what happens. Instead, the director splits his time between Lili and Hagen. Lili gets kicked out of band practice. She goes to a club and smuggles in drugs, gets arrested, gets in fights with her dad and then makes up again. Maybe their initial argument over Hagen is at the bottom of all of this, or maybe this is a film half about early-teen-angst and half about some kind of burgeoning rebellion. That the picture all comes together neatly at the end is an accomplishment.
Mundruczo seems interested primarily, strict narrative aside, in two things: genre and the dog challenge. White God very nearly turns into a horror film towards the end, thanks as much in part to the way it’s shot as to the onscreen events. Like this sequence, which shows a typical bad guy with his back to camera-
Two cuts show the “villains” (dogs) passing by unseen-
-and then a cut back to our antagonist, unaware but suspicious:
This is textbook horror/suspense, with the creeping dread in the foreground, unbeknownst to the soon-to-be-victim.
The dog challenge, rendered here with this stunning shot-
-is just fun. How do you choreograph all of these animals? Does the same shot selection for humans apply to dogs (the answer: yes)?
It turns into a celebration of diversity, particularly appropriate given the current immigrant crisis in Hungary and Europe. The film feels downright prescient that way. White God is pitched like a fever dream – overthrow the authorities in one fell swoop, overcome what was once limited mobility, take to the streets, put the city on lockdown. This sounds like a lot of events around the world today.
Red Amnesia (Wang, 2014)
The only film I saw in China in a theater, I caught this one in Hong Kong. My review for Popoptiq (formerly Sound on Sight) is HERE.