Coupled with several striking film stills taken from the best moments of the movie (just look at the poster), the concept sounds interesting: In some alternate dimension of contemporary Hungary, owners of mixed-breed dogs are heavily taxed, making these dogs highly undesirable as pets. The kennels are full and the streets are overrun by these “mutts,” as they are derisively referred to by those who hate them. But what happens when these undesirable animals band together in a revolt against those who have abandoned them? With its atonal script and simplistic rationalization that defies genuine logic, White God devolves into melodrama and schlock, betraying any earnest intention for allegory.
I hate questioning a movie’s logic. I’ve always thought it unfair to judge a film against “real life,” especially a fantasy film like White God. But too often this movie features twists in the plot and tonal inconsistencies that challenge the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, which is so crucial to a viewer’s investment in cinema. In order to specify how this movie stumbles, I might reveal some spoilers, but it’s fair in order to understand why this film fails to deliver and may disappoint some with high expectations.
White God‘s problems mostly stem from the clumsily written script by director Kornél Mundruczó and co-writers Viktória Petrányi and Kata Wéber. There are stretches in metaphors, from the film’s title to an early scene in a meat factory that shows the gruesome disembowelment of a cow’s carcass. There are also glaring plot holes that will lead many viewers to question simple details. The first of which has to be why a divorced mother would leave her daughter and the child’s mixed-breed dog with her ex-husband and fail to pay the dog’s taxes while she takes off on a three-month research trip. It’s conveniently overlooked plot points like this that appear too often throughout the film that will take the critical mind out of what should have been a better written film.
Thirteen-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) loves her sweet, big dog Hagen (played by Luke and Bodie), but her father Dániel (Sándor Zsótér) can’t stand him. A neighbor, conveniently standing on the stairs of their apartment building as Dániel brings Lili and the dog home, confronts the father about the dog. After the neighbor makes up a lie that the dog bit her, an inspector pays them a visit. Fed up with the inconvenience of Hagen, Dániel takes Lili and her pet for a drive, leaving Hagen far from their home. Hagen, alone, then becomes the focus of the film, and for a nice while one of the film’s most impressive aspects shines: the animals. Hagen befriends an adorable Jack Russell Terrier (Marlene) that takes the lead in protecting Hagen from a large pack of dogs and shows him how to survive on the streets. During a section of the film that relies upon the gestures of the animals and the film’s editing above words, Mundruczó establishes a heart-warming dynamic that’s thrilling to watch unfold. The dogs have wonderful character, and when the cameras roam with them, from either way above, revealing their impressive numbers, or down below in the streets of Budapest, viscerally connecting the viewer with their claws and huffing and puffing, the film stands at its strongest. But these moments are too fleeting and hardly add up to a movie. More often than not, it feels like the director is straining to hold together his concept, putting Hagen through the ringer when encountering cartoonish versions of human beings, even putting the pooch in the clutches of a dog fighter who trains him to kill, a skill that Hagen will inevitably twist against humanity.
Even though the film is at its best in wide shots featuring the dogs running in a pack of well over a hundred canines, I could not help getting over the feeling that I have already seen it done more impressively. When White God premiered in Miami last month at the Miami International Film Festival, there was also a Miami-made documentary called The Holders, whose title refers to people who are all too eager to give up their pets to shelters because they have become inconvenient. At the end of the film, we meet animal lovers in Costa Rica who have gathered and healed up hundreds of strays, herding them in the countryside, as if they were sheep. There was something poetic about the extended, unstaged scenes of the massive pack of dogs rushing through streams and winding their way through trees, but it also resonated in ways that White God falls short. It’s something to see if you get a chance. The film has no distributor, but director Carla Forte says she is submitting the movie to festivals now, so if you want to stay posted about upcoming screenings, “like” the film’s Facebook page (Facebook/TheHolders).
White God will insult the intelligence of any adult drawn to the film’s allegory. Every peripheral character who deserves their comeuppance gets their due in gory confrontations with the killer dogs, but so what? Since when is simple, gut-pummeling revenge an answer to any problem? Though Lili finds a way to halt the rampage in a manner that will translate to another heavy-handed metaphor, no one is left alive to learn anything. The dogs certainly are not rising above the mastering of the humans by killing them. The film’s logic is fine for children, but too bad it has to be so violent. Moreover, righteous revenge as blunt solution does nothing to solve the supposed problem of the downtrodden. These dogs simply become ISIS on four legs. Any endearment is lost and the heavy-handed finale falls disappointingly flat in its contrivance. Though, again, it ends in a striking image, it takes more than superficial stunts to make White God work.
White God runs 119 minutes, is in Hungarian with English subtitles and is not rated (there’s some serious violence against and by doggies). It opens at the Miami Beach Cinematheque in Miami-Dade County and the Cinema Paradiso – Hollywood in Broward County in our South Florida area. If you live elsewhere and are looking for screening details in your town, visit this page. Magnolia Pictures provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It first premiered in Miami at the Miami International Film Festival.