White God is an amazing film, by turns beautiful and brutal, and rife with social commentary. This Hungarian film opens today at Toronto’s Lightbox, and other select theaters across the nation, and I implore you to go and see it if you are able.
Mundruczo has made a film that isn’t afraid to venture into the darkness to tell its story, and while I am about to draw comparisons between other lighter films, that does not lessen the sheer impact this film contains, and as such, is not really suitable for younger viewers.
There are hints of Homeward Bound in this film, as a young girl, Lili (Zsofia Psotta), on the cusp of puberty with all the wonders and horrors that contains, is separated from her dog Hagen (Luke and Body) due to some rather strict laws – only pure breeds are allowed. Mixed breeds are unacceptable. The pair, before the separation are always together, sharing no judgments on one another, happy for one another’s company, and the love that comes from it.
Her father, Daniel (Sandor Zsoter), introduced in a scene that you’ll either find fascinating, or turn you into a vegetarian immediately, and makes a poignant point about how we tend to see the ‘lesser’ beings that share our world, refuses to pay the fees that would let Lili keep the dog.
When Hagen is left at the roadside, Lili is determined to find him, just as much as Hagen wants to find his way back to her… shades of Homeward Bound, but his encounters with dog-catchers, thugs, and a criminal element that will happily profit off the lovable dog begin a transformation. His treatment by those who see him as a lesser, and socially unacceptable, leads to beatings, abuses, and a brutal training as a fighter. So he’s acceptable to make money from, but cannot be treated with love or respect.
This is where the film begins to have shades of another film series rife with social commentary, though we tend to forget it, remembering only the special effects, make-up and actors… The Planet of the Apes series. This is a series that, yes, was designed to entertain, but in each and every one of the original installments, and in the two most recent films, there are important social issues, reflections of our times, held up for us to examine. White God is no different, using a parable of a girl and her dog to comment on race relations, and how we treat our fellows.
Separated, neither of them are happy, beaten, tortured, physically in Hagen’s case, more emotionally in Lili’s case as she is surrounded by nationalism, the pressures and terrors of puberty, and just wanting to fit in.
Through his treatment, he is given the tools he needs to rebel, to fight against those who did this thing, not only to him, but to countless other mixed breeds, and he organizes them, he rises up. At this point, there are a number troubling sequences, all completely justified wherein Hagen and the gross mass of dogs which behaves more like an army than a pack, begin to mete out justice on their oppressors.
Lili believes she can calm them, that she can avert this terrible disaster, but the last few moments of the show illustrate that perhaps a new tenuous balance can be reached.
Mundruczo has made a powerful film, filed with troubling imagery, relevant social commentary and a pair of co-stars who are perfect together. Young Zsofia is honest and earnest, bringing her character to life with a pained teen humanity, and the pair of fogs, Luke and Body who play Hagen, are immensely talented, and completely believable in conveying the trials faced by this poor dog.
White God opens today at the Lightbox!