Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Starring: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth,
Running time: 121 min
When her mother leaves for Australia for the summer on business, teenager Lili is forced to stay with her grumpy, estranged Dad in his cramped one bedroom apartment. Accompanied by her much-loved dog Hagen, a labrador crossbreed, it all becomes too much for her father, who puts the poor mutt out on the street in a moment frustration with his strong-willed daughter. Left to fend for himself on the streets, Hagen is lost and bewildered, while Lili struggles to cope with the loss of her beloved companion and the trials of teenage life.
After a trippy opening involving hundreds of dogs on the streets of Budapest, White God is initially reminiscent of cutesy animal films like Lassie and The Incredible Journey. Dog becomes separated from owner, dog starts journey to get back to said owner and meets a pack of colourful characters on the way. This disarming set-up makes the segue into much darker material all the more horrifying and surprising.
It’s not an easy watch. Animal lovers will no doubt approve of the overall message, but our own journey towards the (incredible) finale is quite often uncomfortable to watch. Director Kornél Mundruczó has assured that no animals were harmed during the course of filming, although there are times you will need to remind yourself that this is the case. In the process Hagen transforms from mild mannered, obedient hound to a tormented and rage filled beast, his trusting nature betrayed by his abusers. This is juxtaposed surprisingly well with Lili’s own story, as she wrestles with acceptance and issues of self-confidence. Both stories are performed brillliantly; not least by the dog who plays Hagen, who manages to be both lovable and utterly terrifying throughout; if dogs could win Oscars, he would surely bring home the bacon.
Working on multiple levels, White God plays out as a coming of age story for Lili, but also works as a violent revenge thriller or revolutionary drama. It almost defies classification. The influences on display are clear and yet also bizarrely wide-ranging. There are elements of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with Hagen as a kind of ‘dog Caesar’, Lassie, Cujo and even the likes of A Prophet and Oldboy. But its real genius is that despite these inspirations it’s still a completely unique viewing experience, and one which will leave you breathless come its frenetic conclusion. White God may be an exhausting experience, but it’s an incredibly satisfying one.