Remember the likes of Turner & Hooch and Beethoven? Well, this is nothing like those but if you’re attracted to a multi-layered narrative that covers class divide, animal instincts of survival and an deep-lying manifestation of oppression, but with dogs, then White God represents with an astonishingly wide range of essential themes.
When 13-year-old Lili (the brilliant Zsófia Psotta) is left with her estranged father for 3 months, due to her Mother heading off to Australia to take a temporary position, her life changes dramatically. Not only have Lili and her Dad grown apart but her father Daniel (Sándor Zsótér) also hates her dog Hagen and doesn’t want him staying the house with Lili, like he’s always done before.
After incidents involving bad behaviour, an interfering neighbour reporting that Hagen had bitten her (which he hadn’t) and a heated argument regarding what they’re going to do with the dog, her father stops the car they’re in, drags him out and they drive off to leave the animal alone on the other side of Budapest. This moment creates fuel for the fire as the devastated Lili rebels and initiates the search to come for her missing dog.
Although the title White God may literally represent the crossbred star Hagen, due to its blonde coat and eventual status, there’s also an explicit juxtaposition throughout the film that’s representational of class divide in both modern day Hungary but also the growing line between the rich and poor in the western world. The thing is, it’s so smoothly and subtly achieved that the subjects sing out alongside the initial straightforward narrative of a girl wanting to get her dog back. From all of this, Director Kornél Mundruczó crafts a compelling and absorbing portrayal of hope alongside a deconstruction of control and power.
Stripped down to the basics, the story is about Lili’s innocence and her love overcoming anything that gets in the way but to get there, White God is a very different animal to most. As Lili seeks her loyal pet and Hagen literally fights to survive, their stories entwine but on opposite sides of the city. Both are struggling for something they believe in but while Lili just wants to find herself and her beloved dog, Hagen is caught up in animal trafficking and while there are scenes that may disturb animal lovers, they’re done with intelligent editing and fit the progression.
As we hit the final third, there’s no letting up as the canines rise up and start to hunt people down like, well, dogs. There’s reason behind the fight back because Hagen has been ill treated along the way and the revolt twists effortlessly into a revenge thriller, as our lead boy hunts down those who believe they’re superior. It all builds to a truly tense finale with stellar performances from the lead animals, Hagen (played by Luke and Body) and a standout debut for young Psotta who gives a captivating performance.
White God, Fehér isten in Hungarian, isn’t just full of appropriate subject matters and unexpected turns, it’s also beautifully shot with wonderfully gritty cinematography that complements the effective story and when the dogs hit the streets, it finishes with an unforgettable and dramatic flourish.
White God is available to stream now online, including on the BFI Player: player.bfi.org.uk/film/white-god
My review was originally published on THN.com