White God

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2014, Hungarian with English Subtitles, 119 mins.

Dir.:Kornél Mundruczó

We now live in the age of man, dubbed the Anthropocene by scientists who argue that it all started in 1610 AD, using Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America as its geological marker.Meanwhile mankind has also made a transition to being a predominantly urban race.White God places its story which is a searing metaphor for racism, mans brutal rape of the environment, and our relationship with animals, in this anthropological context.If this sounds like a heavy film let me add that this film used 274 real dogs in its filming which is a world record of sorts and its narrative arc is totally gripping with jaw dropping dropping visuals (invest two minutes with the Trailer below after reading the review).

On the surface White God tells the poignant story of a young girl Lili’s love for a stray dog that she had adopted and cares for deeply, which is more than can be said of her relationship with her parents.The film begins with an eerie sequence of Lili  being chased by a giant pack of stray dogs through the empty streets of Budapest.Her pet dogs name is Hagen and he does not fit into the developed worlds hyper-civilised framework of the kind of pet that is deemed desirable.Soon Hagen is in the cross hairs of the authorities but ends up in the clutches of a ruthless underground mafia that makes money by fighting dogs that are nothing but steroid pumped killer beasts.

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There is a wonderful shot in the film in which Hagen is about to cross a street and we see him juxtaposed with a pedigreed dog ,which perfectly frames an artificial class and race divide in the canine world, created by humans.I also admired the way the director has smuggled in a reference to a company which has arguably done a lot of harm to the world, DuPont.The wall behind the man pumping toxic chemicals into Hagen has Dupont signage behind him.As an esteem film teacher once told me “Nothing is in a film by chance”.That Dupont sign tells us something very specific in the context of a harmless animal being transformed into a beast.

It is easy to see the film as a commentary on our relationship with the environment but it is equally interesting to place it in the context of say the racial tension in faraway Ferguson, Missouri USA.The film does not end on a note of triumph for the pack of stray dogs on rampage, they are only momentarily subdued but the end game for them is clear.Likewise in America blacks are still discriminated against centuries after the abolition of slavery, decades after the civil rights movement and a full 7 seven years after having a black man as their President.The story of White God is playing out in almost every country in the world.

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The Palm Dog is an award given at the Cannes Film Festival only in a year when a dog delivers a special performance and the two dogs( Luke and Body) that appear in this film as Hagen were the worthy receipts of that award last year.There are several moments in the film when you gasp in the darkness,” Gosh, the dog is really acting!” These are moments of pure cinema and one is thankful when you see something like this. The very solid background score of the film serves it well but the film could have benefited from a more offbeat track and there are moments in the film which feel slightly self indulgent but these are very minor blips in a very audacious film.

With all the profound social commentary that is woven in to the screenplay seamlessly, the film pulsates with the relationship between man and animal on the surface.It tapped into my inner fear of getting bitten by stray dogs which are plenty in India where I grew up.A pack of street dogs barking angrily at me in the dead of the night has turned my blood to liquid ice on more than one occasion.There is a history of stray dogs killing small children in India and my uncle and grandmother have been bitten by stray dogs too.The fact that despite all this baggage I was able to  enjoy this film is proof of its great worth.

# Official submission of Hungary to the best foreign language film category of the 87th Academy Awards 2015.

#Winner Un Certion Regard Award at Cannes Film Festival 2014.

Animal trainer Teresa Miller with director Kornél Mundruczó on the set of WHITE GOD

Animal trainer Teresa Miller with director Kornél Mundruczó on the set of WHITE GOD

All photos courtesy of GV Pictures & Lighthouse Pictures.



Categories: World Cinema

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