If Richard Attenborough perfected the human crowd scene in all its facets (milling about, panic, violence, triumph) with the movie Ghandi, then Kornel Mundruczo has done the same for dogs in White God. I’m talking about real humans and real dogs here, not the current state of film where portraying more than two bodies requires blue screen and motion capture and CGI and a “making of” documentary.
White God is set in Mundruczo’s home country of Hungary, and cleverly starts out as a domestic drama. Lili has to go stay with her father Daniel while her mother and new boyfriend go to an academic conference. Lili brings along her dog Hagen and the tension begins. Daniel hates the dog, Lili hates Daniel for hating Hagen, and of course Hagen gets lost after Dad boots him from the car. Lili’s loathing knows no bounds.
For a moment the film appears it might turn into a Hungarian Disney flick. Hagen will have adventures; Lili will have adventures; Lili and Daniel will mend their fences; Hagen will be found in the tearful finale. Roll credits.
Hagen has adventures, but of the type imagined by Kafka. Things grow progressively worse until Hagen, his named changed to Max, finds himself in a dog fighting ring. He escapes, only to suffer capture by animal control and await euthanasia. But Mundruczo has other plans for his hero.
Breaking free on his way to termination, Hagen begins a revenge spree worthy of The Bride. He springs around 250 other dogs while exiting the pound. What follows is thirty of the most entertaining minutes of a movie I have seen in a long time. Hagen commands his troops, barks orders, outflanks the police, hunts down every person that has wronged him. A return to Lili will complete his final task. But has he become too much of a monster to come home?
I wont’ ruin the ending, but I will say the final shot of the film will find its way into countless montages as the years go by. Mundruczo wanted no computer animation or other effects: his trainers gathered up shelter animals and turned them into a hypnotic pack, seemingly capable of anything. Hagen, played by siblings named Body and Luck, could outperform half of Hollywood’s A-list. The dogs show every range of emotion and evoke the same emotions from the audience.
White God explores the ways we treat our most vulnerable members, both animals and children. Lili remains as lost as Hagen for much of the movie, until Daniel pulls himself together and reconnects with her. A fantastic shot of Lili on a bicycle looking for Hagen culminates in the pack emerging around a corner in hot pursuit, and for a moment both her and the dogs are all fleeing the cruelties our relationships can inflict. We have all had those moments; hopefully we find a destination more meaningful than revenge.