WHITE GOD (Fehér isten)
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Screenwriter: Kata Weber, Viktoria Petranyi, Kornél Mundruczó
Cast: Zsófia Psotta, Sándór Zóstér, Lili Monori, Szabolcs Thuróczy, Lili Horváth, Luke, Body
Screened at: Review 2, NYC,3/4/15
Opens: March 27, 2015
The best political allegories—think George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” even J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”—must not only hit hard against its targets but even more important must be rattling good stories as well. Kornél Mundruczó’s “White God,” or “Fehér isten” in its original Hungarian, may be admitted to that company. As political allegory, it preaches against racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination by positing a society that requires owners of “undesirable” mixed breed dogs to pay a special tax or mandates them to deliver their mutts to a shelter. “White God” is a horror film in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (birds in Northern California attack people with increasing viciousness) and Lewis Teague’s “Cujo” (a friendly St. Bernard contracts rabies and inflicts violence on the people of a small American town). And “White God” is a coming-of-age drama like John Hughes’ “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (a high school senior is determined to have a day off no matter what the principal says) and John Hughes “The Breakfast Club” (a motley crew of high school students in detention learn that they have more in common than they thought).
And “White God” is wonderful as a story, complete with one of Hungary’s most nationalistic pieces of music, a cast of over two hundred remarkably well-trained dogs, and splendid editing that allows an audience to believe that these four-legged, abandoned creatures can inflict well-deserved mortal harm on human beings who have done them wrong.
An opening foreshadows that thirteen-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is being either pursued or followed by the two hundred mongrels. The movie is right up director Kornél Mundruczó’s alley, since his recent film “Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project,” which examines the life of a boy newly released from an institution who finds that he is not wanted at home. In the same respect Lili is being dropped off by her traveling mother for a three-months’ stay with her dad, Dániel (Sándor Zsótér). Dániel, a former professor who is now a meat inspector—first shown giving his stamp of approval to the carcass of a newly slaughtered cow who innard drop to the floor like so much trash—is in no mood to receive this small guest, nor does he welcome Lili’s dog, Hagen. Dániel demonstrates cruelty to animals not only by participating in the slaughter industry but in dumping Hagen into the streets rather than pay a tax that the city of Budapest has passed against dogs of mixed breed. Therein lies the political allegory.
Director Mundruczó has little use for an army of dog catchers, though they are just doing their jobs, as they round up the city strays putting them in an overcrowded shelter managed by a (can you guess?) cruel woman. Hagen, by contrast, is picked up by a man who names the dog Max, trains the dog to fight, and is pleased when the mongrel wins his first fight, leaving his opponent a bloody mess. The drama picks up considerably when over two hundred dogs, now including Hagen, break out from the shelter and rampage through the city streets, avenging themselves by causing several human deaths. Police shoot a score of the animals dead while Lili shows that there are more peaceful means to calm the warriors. Hence the horror theme.
As Lili is herself a rebellious teen, calling her father a jerk and her “Whiplash” style music director heartless, “White God” covers coming-of-age territory. The three genres are so deftly intermeshed, so cleverly filmed by Marcell Rev using a dog’s eye view, and spectacularly edited by David Jancso, that the technical aspects combined with newcomer Zsófia Psotta’s natural performance, that it’s no wonder that the movie garnered the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
Rated R. 119 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A