You have to love the AlamoDrafthouse press notes description of White God as being about a “dog that starts a revolution.” In an amazing realization of the magic of moviemaking this Hungarian film achieves the seemingly impossible task of coordinating over 200 canines into a live action adventure that makes dogs the central characters.
Director Kornekl Mundruczo must have a lot of patience because a thorough viewing of White God makes it obvious that he shot a film (including clever computer effects) that depicts an army of dogs running loose through a major city. Fifty dogs were multiplied into 200 with computer trickery, yet it’s a far cry from the kind of CGI seen in superhero movies, or even battle epics like Troy that used the same idea to create thousands of combatants where there were just a handful. Through a combination of editing, camera angles and elaborate stunts a dog named Hagen (played by a charismatic pooch named Bodie) takes on the role of a champion of the, no pun intended, underdog.
A young girl with divorced parents has to go live with her estranged father when her mother leaves the country on business for several months. However a statute in the local laws subjects mixed breed dogs to a heavy tax. Subsequently the father makes his daughter release the dog onto the city streets rather than pay the fine.
All throughout White God we see the narrative through the eyes of Hagen. Every human that gives Hagen a hard time gets his or her just desserts in the end. At first Hagen avoids the local dogcatchers. This culminates in an incredibly choreographed sequence where Hagen dashes in and out of a series of apartments and stairways, always one or two steps ahead of his would-be captors.
Eventually, the man captures Hagen. While in the pound Hagen organizes the other dogs and when the opportunity presents itself they break free of the bonds of normalcy and convention and run amok in the city.
White God reminded me of an obscure 1955 American film titled It’s A Dog’s Life. Not unlike Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthasar in structure, It’s a Dog’s Life follows the episodic adventures of a wandering terrier in the early 1900s who goes from owner to owner and at one point is forced to fight in death matches with other dogs. It’s a strong movie for its time, in particular one scene where the protag’s cruel masters hang him from a rope and beat him.
In White God is a similar scene, and with true movie ingenuity the filmmakers never show the dog being hit in the same shot as the person striking them. Yet the end effect is undeniably powerful and will most likely elicit strong reactions from those who hate animal violence.
In another genre related meme White God seems to be a Disney film gone berserk, not unlike the recent film Roar. The animals on display in a typical Disney film would be hundred of miles away from home and trying to find their way back (The Incredible Journey) and would get in tense yet cute situations.
In White God the mongrels are symbols of minority citizens under a fascist regime. When their quadruped terrorism starts to achieve actual success you can’t help but want them to bring down the man.
White God unwinds starting this weekend at the AlamoDrafthouse Mason Park.
— Michael Bergeron