WHITE GOD (2014)
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
Hungarian language with English subtitles
Lili, a 13 year old girl, is forced to live with her father when her mother has to work abroad. Much to her father’s distaste, Lili brings along her mixed breed dog Hagen to stay in the apartment with them. However, after a neighbour reports the dog and after a visit from the dog warden who orders him to pay a fee to keep Hagen, Lili’s father throws him out onto the street. A distraught Lili searches for her dog to no avail, whilst Hagen struggles to survive on the streets and soon comes to realise not all humans are as kind and loving as his teenage owner.
Set in Budapest, Hungary, WHITE GOD is an emotional tale told from two sides: the young girl’s and the dog’s. Lili is a loving, caring young girl who adores her brown mixed-breed dog Hagen and the feeling is clearly mutual. She shares her food with him, plays with him and he even sleeps on her bed at night. The two are literally best friends and are unseparable, that is until her father decides the dog must go and cruelly leaves him alone and helpless at the side of the road. No matter how hard Lili searches for her beloved pooch, she’s unable to locate Hagen. Hagen, in the absence of his owner and loving home, teams up with a gang of stray dogs, in particular a wire-haired Jack Russell terrier, but with the dog warden patrol van constantly on alert, his freedom is constantly threatened. The real horrors descend when he finds himself in the hands of a dog fighting trainer who tortures, punishes and transforms Hagen into a fearless fighting machine, tearing away the love, kindness and care Hagen had ever known. Deep down in his heart, Hagen knows that the White Gods, the humans, have turned his life into misery, snatching him from the one thing he loves most, and he prepares to take revenge against all who’ve done him wrong with a little help from his fellow abandoned and mistreated hounds.
Be prepared to weep throughout the emotional rollercoaster that is WHITE GOD as the plight of an animal and his relationship is explored. They say never work with children or animals but that certainly didn’t put off director Kornél Mundruczó. He didn’t feature just one dog in this movie but a pack of them of all breeds, colours and sizes. I have enough time getting my dog to obey commands but as the special features on the DVD show, the dogs in this movie are utter professionals and are astounding at acting naturally yet with plenty of emotion. The scene in which our lead character Lili is cycling through the deserted streets only to be swarmed by running dogs is a sight to behold. It’s a feat of filmmaking and I’ve never known a film like this, to take on so many dogs and to also convey a message from the dogs without resorting to CGI mouthpieces or professional voice-overs for the animals. In WHITE GOD, the dogs, in particular Hagen and the Jack Russell, convey their emotion with their eyes, the twitch of their ears and the tilt of their head. I challenge you to watch this film and not feel anything when you watch these dogs on screen. This film has proven animals can be as emotive as humans especially with their whimpers and barks emphasising what they are feeling.
I mustn’t forget to mention the other star of the show, young Zsófia Psotta as Lili. Lili is an only child who shares an incredible bond with her dog Hagen. Her world is turned upside down when Hagen is taken away for her and she rebels through frustration and anger. Zsófia perfectly captures the strong-headed teen who struggles to accept the hand that’s dealt her by the adults in her life, much like Hagen. When her beloved dog is taken away from her, she does whatever she can to find him and though her search draws up blanks, she never really gives up hope.
Though the first two halves of WHITE GOD are heart-wrenching, the final third will have you cheering inside as the revenge angle is cleverly orchestrated. The scenes of dozens of dogs flooding the city streets of Budapest are a wonder to behold and the cinematography really takes adventage to gain some spectacular angles, not only towards the end but throughout the film which help to tell Hagen’s story. If you’re an animal lover, it may be hard to watch at times but the finale is well worth it as karma is well and truly executed.