Synopsis: When young Lili is forced to give up her beloved dog Hagen because its mixed-breed heritage is deemed “unfit” by The State, she and the dog begin a dangerous journey back towards each other. At the same time, all the unwanted, unloved and so-called “unfit” dogs rise up under a new leader, Hagen, the one-time housepet who has learned all too well from his “Masters” in his journey through the streets and animal control centers that man is not always dog’s best friend…
Release Date: April 10, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
One of the questions that screenwriters must ask themselves during the writing process is “is this filmable?” By all accounts, White God, the new movie from Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó (Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project), should not be filmable. But Mundruczó pulls it off, and pulls it off very well.
White God is about a thirteen-year-old girl named Lili (first-time actress Zsófia Psotta) who is caught in the middle of her parents’ messy divorce. She goes to stay with her father (Sándor Zsótér from Heavenly Shift), bringing her beloved pet dog, Hagen, with her. Unfortunately, Hagen is a mutt, and Hungary has a law against half-breed dogs that would force Lili’s father to pay a tax on the dog. Rather than pay the tax, Lili’s father ditches Hagen on the side of the road. Hagen is left to his own devices to find his way back to Lili, while Lili is forced to disobey her father to search for her lost dog. On his journey back to Lili, Hagen encounters bums, dogfighters, and animal control officers, but also makes friends with other dogs along the way, resulting in a half-breed dog rampage through the streets of Budapest.
Although it sounds like a cute little Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey type of a story, White God is anything but wholesome. Hagen’s journey home starts that way, but the film quickly turns dark as the domestic dog loses his innocence on the streets. The fascinating thing is that, despite all of the horrible things that Hagen has to do in order to survive and all of the misdeeds that he finds himself getting into, he never stops being the hero of the film. The audience roots for him implicitly, desperately wanting him to be reunited with Lili, no matter what he has to do in order for that to happen. Of course, it’s easier to root for a cute dog and a little girl than it is for a mean old ugly dogcatcher, but White God is still interesting in how it defines the relationship between Hagen and Lili as its antagonist.
The human story of Lili and her father provides a nice distraction, but the real stars of White God are the dogs. Hagen himself is portrayed by a pair of American shelter dogs named Luke and Bodie who were flown to Hungary for filming, and they perform just as professionally as any “professional” dog stars would have performed, except that they look more natural and real than any Hollywood pups. As for the “extras,” Kornél Mundruczó and his trainers used over 250 dogs that were found in shelters across Hungary (and subsequently adopted at the conclusion of filming), and these are the dogs that command the audience’s attention every time they are onscreen. The sight of so many dogs running crazy in a canine mob scene is extremely impressive, especially considering the magnitude of working with so many dogs at once without the benefit of CGI in post-production. It’s a cinematic wonder that the dog wranglers could keep such control over their canine actors, but they do, and the sea-of-dog scenes in White God are nothing short of spectacular.
There are parts of White God that will be hard to watch for dog lovers. Some of the experiences that Hagen has while out on his own are not pretty or fun, and there’s a lot of violence and brutality in what he sees and does. What starts out as a movie about a girl and her dog turns into a horror flick, which in turn becomes a swarming man-versus-nature film. There’s probably a social or political message in the film somewhere, something about the downtrodden and desperate rising up against their oppressors, but White God is a powerful film even for those who don’t process the moral to the story. White God is a great movie, whether it’s completely understood or not.
White God was shot by cinematographer Marcell Rév (Land of Storms), and he uses his photography to fully separate the dog scenes from the human ones. The human story of Lili and her father is told through strong, sturdy shots in a more traditional cinematic way. The canine parts of the movie are shot with handheld cameras from very low angles that put the viewer right next to the dogs in order to reinforce the chaos and disorder of the pack mentality. There is a distinct shift in tone about two-thirds of the way through the film where it becomes almost a horror film, and Rév’s photography turns shadowy and dark when the behavior of the animals becomes threatening and ominous. White God is a unique film, and Rév’s cinematography helps creatively tell the story.
Because so much of White God focuses on the dogs and there’s very little dialogue in the canine scenes, the music takes center stage for a good chunk of the film. The score for White God was composed by Asher Goldschmidt (Never Too Late), and the music is a cool throwback to the pulsing, pounding action-adventure movie soundtracks of the eighties. The score combines vintage sounding synthesized horns and violins with thumping bass lines and sparse percussion, resulting in a suspenseful and dramatic musical soundtrack. Goldschmidt’s music is a great accompaniment to the visuals of Hagen and the other dogs as they reign furry vengeance down upon the city of Budapest. As telling as the sound effects of the streets in the film are, the addition of the music in White God adds a lot to the experience.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Kornél Mundruczó
- Producer(s): Eszter GyárfásViktória Petrányi
- Screenwriter(s): Kornél MundruczóViktória PetrányiKata Wéber
- Cast: Zsófia PsottaSándor ZsótérLili Horváth Károly AscherBodieLuke
- Editor(s): Dávid Jancsó
- Cinematographer: Marcell Rév
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s): Lili Horváth
- Music Score: Asher Goldschmidt
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA