Viewers who have a dislike of abattoirs and animal innards, skip forward a few minutes when watching White God. It’s a bit disgusting in the opening moments as cattle are sliced open and their innards are removed, but this whole sequence establishes the metaphors that run throughout the rest of the film.
Lili (Zsofia Psotta) is a 13 year old girl living in Hungary. She is swiftly left behind by her mother, who is heading off to Sweden for three months to teach, and is forced to live with her father in his pokey one room apartment. He’s a supervisor in that abattoir, you see. Luckily for Lili she has her dog Hagen with her, but he’s not a popular presence. Both her father and the local residents have problems with “mutts”, a result of the government’s levy on non-pedigree breeds. This is a world in which only pedigree dog breeds are welcome, with mongrels cast aside and shelters left overflowing with unwanted dogs. Soon Hagen is abandoned on the streets by Lili’s father and is forced to join up with other abandoned dogs in order to survive.
What’s remarkable are the performances pulled from Bodie and Luke, the dogs playing Hagen, and indeed all of the other canine performers. There’s no need for dialogue, their emotions and actions are as clear, if not occasionally clearer, than their human co-stars. People often find it easy to empathise with dogs anyway, but here it’s almost impossible not to feel anything for Hagen and his efforts to get back to Lili.
Chased by a group of somewhat dubious pest controllers, Hagen has soon amassed a large following of fellow abandoned dogs and, like a canine Spartacus, is soon leading a revolt of sorts against the humans.
It’s a bit like Homeward Bound in one respect, but a version that isn’t family friendly and has narrative touchstones with Spartacus and the best parts of zombie movies from days gone by. The humans involved in the story get their inevitable comeuppance as the unwanted animals turn on those that wish to imprison them.
This is probably for the best as, almost all of the human characters lack any remotely interesting qualities. Even Lili, who we are supposed to empathise with (to an extent at least seeing as she is our way into this story), is somewhat objectionable. This could be something to do with the parallels between her story and that of Hagen – once they part ways he loses his innocence, and so does she. Growing up and finding out the true nature of the world around her isn’t what you would call a fun experience.
Directorial flourishes from Kornel Mundruczo keep things interesting, despite the inherent strangeness of dogs fighting back in such a manner. It’s like a proto-Planet of the Apes, but with creatures that haven’t yet developed the capability of speech. On the whole it is a genuinely bleak place, albeit one with a hint of hope.
There are a few logical inconsistencies that have the potential to spoil things, but that is more on the human role in the story than the dogs, oddly enough. The ending is left open to interpretation and, whilst it goes a little bit weird, doesn’t wrap everything up nicely, leaving you the audience to decide how things will ultimately pan out. It’s a confident piece of filmmaking from Mundruczo, showing an eye for detail and an eye for visual storytelling rather than through dialogue.