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White God | reviews, news & interviews

White God

White God

Hungarian allegory on racism and the rise of the far right fails to cohere

With a similar title to Samuel Fuller’s White Dog, White God, too, is an allegory on racism with a canine slant. Where the 1982 film centred on a dog trained to attack black people, Kornél Mundruczó’s film is set in a Hungary where mixed-breed dogs are rounded up and sent to pounds. An edict from a government which is neither mentioned specifically nor seen, permits only pure “Hungarian” breeds. Mutts have to be reported.

In the main, society appears to accept this. Dog catchers in white vans roam Budapest’s streets to round up the forbidden mongrels. Neighbours report on each other if they see a suspect dog.

Although hardly a subtle metaphor for racism and the rise of the far right, the premise of White God wouldn’t be a problem if the film had decided what it was. As it is, Mundruczó seems not have settled on whether he was examining the institutionalisation and normalisation of racism or examining the nature of human brutality. And in terms of its flow White God is a bumpy ride.

The story centres on 13-year-old Lili. Her parents are divorced, and she lives with her father Daniel. She arrives with Hagen, her beloved dog. In common with all adult males in the film, Daniel is angry and dismissive of the feelings and opinions of others. He hates the dog and disdains Lili’s closeness to Hagen. After an incident at a rehearsal of the orchestra she plays trumpet for, Daniel casts Hagen onto the streets.

White God Fehér Isten HagenThe film then tracks the paths of Hagen and the distraught Lili as she tries to find him. The dog teams up with a smaller terrier, but is then caught, drugged and beaten to make him into a fighter and he subsequently kills in an arena. These are brutal scenes. A lucky break brings short-term freedom. After being rounded up by the dog catchers, Hagen (pictured above, after he is forced to become a fighter) leads a breakout from the pound and takes to the streets with hundreds of other dogs. Humans are their target. Police attempt to kill them off.

Lili might be a beacon of morality in this ghastly world, but she is placed in situations that don't move the film forward: a not-quite romance with a sympathetic boy in her orchestra; a lengthy and pointless scene in a nightclub. Too much hackneyed point-of-view wobbly-cam action distracts, as does an overbearing use of music to heighten the drama. Given all that has happened, Lili’s rapprochement with her father (Sándor Zsótér) towards the end seems implausible. The closing moments beggar belief. 

As Lili, Zsófia Psotta shines. Her scenes with the expressive Hagen are terrific. He’s pretty good on his own too (actually, two dogs took on the role) and has a way with cute head-cocking. The choreography of the dogs – there is no CGI – is breathtaking. But White God is not the sum of its parts.

Over its too-long two hours, and beyond its main premise, White God can't decide whether it's an inside-out Incredible Journey, an upside-down Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a wonky District 9 or about the unbreakable bond and interrelated tension between human and dog. Although bold and intermittently gripping, the end result smacks of overreaching.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for White God


Watch the trailer for White God


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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