Barney Weston tells us about the strengths and weaknesses of this Hungarian movie about dogs
White God, known in its native language as Fehér isten, and Hungary’s nominee for this years Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, charts the relationship between a girl called Lili (played by Zsófia Psotta) and her dog Hagen (played by twin dogs Luke and Body). Yet when Lili’s father dumps Hagen on the streets because of a new tax on mixed breeds, although the film attempts to place an equal focus on both Lili and Hagen, the latter’s story is much more compelling, and for the first time I’ve seen in a live-action film, we have a dog as the main character.
At this stage in the film, White God shines when Hagen is on screen. With an origins story comparable to that of Caesar’s in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, once Hagen is dumped on the streets he is found and trained up to be a fighting dog. From here the familiar canine domestic nature we are all used is beaten out of him. Yet it’s in moments like when Hagen wins his first fight, almost killing the other dog in front of him that we can tell that Hagen doesn’t like what he’s done nor what he’s been forced into. For a dog to convey this sounds ridiculous and considering that, it’s impossible not to mention how well edited and directed these moments are by Kornél Mundrucźo.
With this in mind, what can’t not be mentioned are the moments when this occurs en masse. The film’s final scenes are very similar to those from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, except without the CGI. Watching hundreds of dogs charge down an urban road alongside Lili on her bike reminded me what cinema had been made for. Mundrucźo can’t be criticised in regards to these, but what he can be criticised over is how he fits them into White God as a whole.
Considering this, as well as how White God is ultimately too long, lacks a clear message, and manages to make every human who appears on screen instantly forgettable, the film is generally quite poorly executed. But what shouldn’t be criticised is how, considering that anything else close to similar to White God is plagued with CGI, Mundrucźo managed to make me come out of Cornerhouse feeling refreshed. Would I recommend White God to the average cinema-goer? No. But I would recommend it to anyone who wants to have their faith in cinema restored.