Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó | 119 minutes | drama | Actors: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth, Szabolcs Thuróczy, Lili Monori, Gergely Bánki, Tamás Polgár, Károly Ascher, Erika Bodnár, Body, Bence Csepeli, János Derzsi, Csaba Faix, Edit Frajt
The bond between a child and a pet is, as a rule, indestructible. The Hungarian “White God” also provides proof of this. In this case, however, that produces a ridiculous film that can hardly live up to the high expectations.
Because the basic conditions of “White God” sound good. The film tells about adolescent Lili and her dog Hagen. When her mother leaves for Australia for a convention, the girl is forced to stay with her father. The small apartment complex in which the divorced man lives does not house dogs. And secretly her father does not want to know anything about it. After an argument, her father puts Hagen out of the car. Her passion for the dog never ceases, however, and she takes to the streets to find her beloved dog.
Love is of course mutual and “White God” cleverly responds to this by regularly choosing Hagen’s perspective. The dog thus plays an active leading role. This has the potential to provide interesting images, because the communication and actions of dogs can usually proceed along a more subtle yardstick than is the case with humans. Because they cannot express themselves in a language known to us, the story has to be shaped in a different way. The challenge is to give the dogs, and especially Hagen, enough personality. In this way, full-fledged characters must arise that can stimulate the involvement of the spectator. Expectations are once again rising.
When film critics repeatedly draw the direct comparison with Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” the prospect is nothing short of rosy. With regard to the latter, “White God” immediately and quite naturally falls through the basket, because the two films have a completely different approach. The birds in “The Birds” are a physical manifestation arising from the unconscious portion of the consciousness of one of the main characters. The dogs in “White God” are lifelike, with a (small) personality of their own and less diffuse motives than the birds in Hitchcock’s classic. The fleeting camera still suggests a mental or metaphysical subjectivity, but is ultimately no more than a stylistic tool to accentuate action.
It is a pity that the personality of the dogs does not want to show up. The lack stems from their simple motives. The four-legged friends are loyal to their owners, but when treated badly by a variety of people, they all turn into false creatures whose sole purpose is to take revenge. The dogs do not differ from each other, therefore have no individuality and all act from that simple lust for revenge. More diversity and depth had saved involvement in their evil killings.
But of course the retaliation is not the fault of the dogs themselves, but mostly of the adult humans who made them what they are. The (white) man is the real beast. Primary actions therefore originate from the human, not from the dog. Everyone except Lili is of a debatable background. It is not only a childish theme, it is also the story of such a generality that all surprises have slipped out of the film. What remains is baseless predictability.
Lili’s motivations are no different. Because why she puts her dog above everything is not exactly clear. Unlimited pet love alone is too easy. As a spectator you also want to know where she met Hagen. And how long they’ve known each other at all. That lack of backstory gets in the way of her goodwill. The why of all this lingers in darkness.
What still keeps “White God” going is the play of the dogs. From the street they are excellently performed. This way the film still retains some authenticity. But it is not enough. On closer inspection, “White God” does not live up to the basic premise. Ultimately it is a classic film as it has been made many times before. A film that nevertheless lingers in forced child problems. The final revenge horror gives everything a schizophrenic character. The analogy with present-day Hungary is equally artificial. However, it doesn’t get anywhere exceptional. Setback.