In an era of superheroes, sequels, reboots and remakes there is a fear that film is fast running out of original ideas. Kornél Mundruczó’s White God allays those fears by sinking its teeth so deep into the notion that film has little to offer outside the realms of capes and mutants leaving you gasping for breath from the first to last frame.
The opening of White God is lifted straight out of a universal dream. A girl, precocious Lili (Zsófia Psotta), cycles through a deserted city. The streets eerie with monolithic buildings imposing around her before a tsunami of dogs floods behind her. Whether they are following her or chasing her is left unanswered until the end of the film but it is a visual so staggering as to immediately capture.
From there we travel back to when Lili is shipped off to live with her estranged father, taking her dog Hagen (played by twin dogs Body and Luke) with her. But a recent law means that mongrels are taxed and, with Hagen causing issues at home, Lili’s father abandons him on the streets. As Lily frantically searches for her best friend, while dealing with the pitfalls of adolescence, so Hagen goes from being man’s best friend to trained killer and finally to leader of a canine uprising against their human oppressors.
White God is a film that is impossible to pigeonhole, and for that reason is a resounding success. It starts as an innocent companionship story of one girl and her dog but Lassie this is not, as it descends into a man oppressing his best friend and exploiting him for their own gain, all the while it is a rise to power story. Hagen going through a Spartacus-come-Cesar from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes scenario in which he assembles his warriors to become the dominant species. There’s no Golden Gate Bridge here but there is a similarly executed tunnel confrontation between man and beast. The final act is a thrilling, visceral and chilling revenge horror as the dogs bite back, hard.
The film opens with a quote from RM Rilke that states “Everything terrible is something that needs our love”. Mundruczó leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not that something terrible is Hagan and his clan or the people who persecute him. What is unquestionable is who is offering up the love. In the lead human role Psotta is a revelation. Her sullen, often bolshie demeanor wonderfully juxtaposed with her childlike innocence and her unwavering love for her pet. But more than anything White God captivates through the performance of its doggy stars. The emotion demonstrated by Luke and Body is heart crushingly moving. Many see the Palm Dog award (which Luke and Body won in 2014) at the Cannes Film Festival as something of a joke, a bit of fun to be had amongst all the serious awards being dished out. But witnessing the canine performances on display in White God you have to wonder if it is an acknowledgement that should be taken more seriously.
White God is a film of the highest pedigree, visually staggering and thematically powerful, expect an American remake any minute.