White God (2014) / Drama
aka Feher Isten
MPAA Rated: R for violent content including bloody images, and language
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Zsofia Psotta, Sandor Zsoter, Lili Horvath
Director: Kornel Mundruczo
Screenplay: Kornel Mundruczo, Viktoria Petranyi, Kata Weber
Review published May 7, 2015
Co-written and directed by Kornel Mundruczo (Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project, Delta), White God is a film about a young teenage girl named Lili (Psotta) and her relationship with a mutt she is taking care of named Hagen, while her divorced parents continue to find ways to disrespect one another. Due to a new tax law to control mutt breeding, Lili's father Daniel (Zsoter), who ends up in a situation where he has to care for his daughter and dog for a spell, refuses to pay a cent for his ex-wife's pet while his daughter cares for it, leading eventually to the mutt's abandonment in the streets, and a straining of the relationship between Dad and Lili. As the girl seeks to find Hagen, the dog finds life isn't so rosy out in the streets of Budapest, where losers, users, and abusers aren't so kind to stray animals.
Lassie and Benji this ain't, in this distinctly violent, R-rated 'dog trying to find his way home' flick from Hungary. If you're a warm-hearted dog lover, it is likely a movie too brutal to endure, as humans aren't so kind to our furry friends, with quite a few things you are hoping you won't see happen to a loveable mutt most certainly will. There were a number of walkouts at my screening, probably more due to not wanting to endure some fairly depressing depictions of cruelty. I didn't have that inkling, feeling like it is well made enough to trust Mundruczo to have something more to say. He does, if you choose to read into the film's ostensible commentary on society's outcasts and immigrants. I don't mind what he says, but I don't particularly like the way he says it.
While the movie isn't easy to watch, it is, at the very least, made with competent flair, and isn't a bad film for about 3/4 of the run time. The handling of the dogs and their "acting" in particular is some of the best I've seen in any film. However, the overbearing final half hour, which injects shades of revenge horror into the mix, lays the absurdity quotient to beyond the breaking point for me. Whether the fantasy elements are supposed to be read as a metaphor or not (I don't see how they wouldn't be), as storytelling, it doesn't really work well, playing like a canine version of The Birds than in the climax for the 90 minutes that came before it, with the exception of a dream-like jump-forward to open the film.
In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I believed what happens as smart and sentient apes overtake human-kind, because, from a story perspective, everything leading up to the revolt allows for it. In White God, it flips on like a switch at the hand of a director, but what happens is beyond explanation, leading viewers to have to do all of the heavy work in terms of what it all means. And it feels mighty goofy, both visually and tonally, for such a serious film, I'd likely have laughed if I weren't so disappointed. Not without merit, it's a nice showcase for the talent of its makers, but, as with Hagen, the film left me on the side of the road without ay discernible means of making my way back.
©2015 Vince Leo