Review: White God
PLOT: When a thirteen-year-old girl is forced to give up her dog, both she and her loyal pet desperately try to find each other in a cruel and violent world.
REVIEW: Rarely does a film have such a resounding emotional impact that it becomes a difficult experience to sit through. This is not an insult to the quality of the work, not at all. Yet WHITE GOD (original title Fehér isten) is a ferociously harsh film when it comes to the horrors an abandoned dog must face. In fact, there are moments that are near cringe worthy when you see the disturbing treatment the animal is given. For the first hour it was near impossible to see this poor animal - as well as the young teenage girl forced to give him up - treated so poorly. This is not an easy film to take in, especially if you are an animal lover, but it is a raw and potent one that will stick with you whether you want it to or not.
This Hungarian tale tells of two adventures. When a teenage girl named Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is sent to spend time with her seemingly reluctant father, Dániel (Sándor Zsótér), her only happiness comes from her loyal dog Hagen (played by Body and Luke). When the locals find that they are keeping a dog, they insist that financially struggling Dániel pay a fee to keep the dog - these poor animals are not looked upon kindly here. Frustrated by his daughter’s insistence of keeping the dog, he lets Hagen go somewhere in the city streets much to his daughter’s dismay. It is a heartbreaking moment, and one that will lead to an unusual uprising.
As much as it is Lili’s determined fight to find her dog, WHITE GOD is Hagen’s story of survival, struggle and revenge, and it is one hell of a potent one. The opening sequence in this effective drama is simply incredible. We see Lili riding her bike in a city that seems to have suffered some sort of devastation. As she rides across numerous streets we see an army of dogs begin to follow her. Why and what purpose we are unaware, but it is an incredible image. It is ridiculous to imagine the difficulty filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó must have gone through to make this movie. After all, you always hear that working with children and animals are both difficult. He does both with complete success. Not only does he manage to get fantastic performances all around, he also creates a visually stunning work. While the all too painful images of dogs being brutalized is certainly taxing - actually a couple scenes are downright excruciating - you can’t deny it’s power.
As much as I was mesmerized by WHITE GOD, the punishment placed upon Hagen and numerous other dogs is just awful to watch. Loyal family pet flicks are usually filled with heartache, but this is far more torturous than most. There is a point to it, thankfully, and it is not at all exploitative nevertheless it is not an easy watch. It also helps to be aware that the dogs were seemingly well taken care of, and all of the dogs - there may have been a hundred or so - found homes after production. As vicious as the dog fighting scenes may be, and the vicious portrayal of those who had no interest in helping the animals, it is good to know that the filmmakers took great care in their well being.
This is an impressively shot film, as well, it features two terrific lead performances. While it is Psotta’s only credit, she gives a fantastic portrayal of a lonely teen girl. While you can tell that she lacks a bit of professional polish, she has a natural quality that helps give credence to her take as Lili. And yes, she has wonderful chemistry with the film’s real star. Luke and Body - and all involved in creating their on-screen performance - are absolutely splendid. Hagen shows enormous growth and range as a dog trying to find sanctity, as well as his loving owner, in a cruel and brutal world. Even though the father shows a little compassion when necessary, the adult actors are generally very good at being awful. The suspense is almost insufferable every single time Hagen meets another character as they tend to get worse and worse along the way.
WHITE GOD is a brave yet vicious film that will be a difficult experience for many. If you are a dog lover this may be a downright painful watch for most of its running time. Yet the script - written by Mundruczó, Viktória Petrányi and Kata Wéber - takes a wild turn that is strange but very necessary. It has much to say about the way we treat animals, as well as the cruel and unrelentingly difficult period of growing up in this world. This is an intense feature that will likely weigh heavy on many a viewer. Part coming-of-age and part revenge, it is still worth watching even if you may not be able to take it all in. Even if you are not a huge dog person this is a tough watch. However, there is much to admire in this near exceptional film, and I guarantee you will be fully invested in the two leads.