By Emma Silverthorn @HouseOf_Gazelle
Kornel Mundruczo’s feature White God can’t really be done justice in conversation, as I’ve realised this week raving to friends about a film that follows an army of dogs as they take over a Hungarian city! But White God is an exceptional film. It’s many things depending on your view point, an animal rights film, a comment on the current political situation in Hungary; one that is easily extrapolated to other parts of the world, (the Jobbik party is not unlike UKIP in its anti-European, neo-fascist and homophobic standpoint), a thriller, a coming-of-age tale, and an old testament-style vengeance fable.
Zsófia Psotta is brilliant, both vulnerable and feisty, as teenage lead Lili. Up rooted from her mother and sent to live with her authoritarian, distant yet not wholly unlikeable father (Sandor Zsoster), she is unsurprisingly lonely. And Hagen (Bodie) her dog absolutely fills that dog cliché of being the best and most loyal friend she could ever have. The fact that the only ‘I love you’ in the film comes from Lilli and is spoken to Hagen says a lot. (Especially put in the context of Lilli’s life; at the films’ start her mother says goodbye to her thirteen-year-old daughter, as she is off to the other side of the world for three months. She tells Lilli to ‘take care’ and to ‘obey her father’, and that’s it.)
However, thanks to a ridiculous, eugenics-inspired law Hagen and Lilli’s bond is soon torn apart. This law states that owners of half-breed dogs have to pay a tax, which of course ‘pure Hungarian’ dog-breeds are not subject to. Lilli’s father is unwilling to pay this fee. (This law actually went to motion in Hungary but thankfully was not passed.) The political metaphor here is clear however the gripping plot and beautiful cinematography means that the film is never weighed down with ideology. Despite the fact that it is in many ways an activist film, as well as one that seems to reference philosophies like Hegel’s Master/Slave dialectic.
Following Hagen’s expulsion from Lilli’s life things go from bad to worse, as he is abused and exploited by a succession of humans from all levels of society, from the authorities in the form of the pound, to a homeless man, to a dog-fighter trainer. Rather satisfyingly about halfway through sweet Hagen reaches breaking point and thus his uprising begins. There are obvious Planet of the Apes parallels here but this is a darker, distinctly non-Hollywood depiction of another species murderous insurgency. And this is where the Old Testament eye for an eye vengeance comes in. To mix religious analogies this is about karma not mindless violence…it is the abusers who are attacked first. And it might just be my vegan sensibility but I definitely found myself siding with the dogs, if not the brutality of their revenge. Though I doubt I’m alone in this as much of the film is viewed from a dogs-eye level, encouraging empathy with the animals and what they represent, that is the segregated and exploited minority. Plus the film heavily implies that monstrous environments naturally create monstrous behaviours.
On a lighter note, the film features an excellent human-cast but one that is certainly overshadowed by lead-dog Bodie, and later his gang of dog buddies, Bodie rightly so won the Cannes Palm Dog Award! He has an incredibly expressive face and hats off to trainer Teresa Miller. His jack Russell sidekick is also particularly endearing. It’s been a good couple of years for star-animals and though very different I couldn’t help thinking about another animal show-stealer Fluffy the Cat from Listen Up Philip!
Four words: Go See WHITE GOD!
White God is on general release from February 27th.