Hundreds of dogs swarm the deserted streets of Budapest. Led by a sandy mixed-breed ‘mutt’ they move as a pack, an army, overwhelming everything and everyone they meet.
White God (2014, dir.Kornél Mundruczó) is a Hungarian thriller, drama, and social satire focused on a young girl’s bond with her dog, Hagen. When Lili (Zsófia Psotta) moves in with her father, his intolerance for Hagen’s presence in his home has dire consequences for them all. Unwilling to pay a fee to keep a mongrel dog, he abandons Hagen at a busy underpass.
Not for the fainthearted, White God depicts brutal animal cruelty with an unflinching lens. After their forced separation the film follows both Lili and Hagen’s attempts to cope without the other and find their feet in a strange and threatening world. Both are taken to unfamiliar places, go through trauma and struggle against authority and oppression.
However, it is the instinctive and compelling way Mundruczó charts Hagen’s narrative that makes White God truly exceptional. Unafraid to allow solely canine scenes to dominate, the lack of dialogue means that expressive animal interaction supersedes conventional human interaction. The viewer reads Hagen’s body language, each twitch and whine saying as much, if not more, than dialogue could convey.
The film makes a distinct shift into top gear in the second half as the dogs escape from the shelter, and led by Hagen, run riot across the city. Mundruczó enacts clever parodies of film tropes, adding a dark humour to their rampage of revenge. As Hagen squares up to the fast-food man that sold him to a brutal dog fight trainer, the camera holds each of their eyes in close-up, switching between the two in a High Noon showdown.
While the sections with Lili occasionally drag, her inexperience showing through in the more intensely emotional scenes, the parallels Mundruczó sets up between the two narratives more than sustain the film’s tension and drive.
An incredibly original thriller, White God is a triumph to behold and a huge technical achievement. The final shot is breathtaking and it’s a shame this little film didn’t get the nomination it deserved at this year’s Academy Awards.