Kornél Mundruczó pushes surrealist parable to the nth degree with White God. A simple story of a girl and her lost dog, Hagen, rises to a Dantean fever pitch when Hagen is mercilessly abused and eventually assembles a battalion of rejected dogs to exact revenge on the humans who tossed them out. The film is set in Hungary where the government has strict rules against "mixed-breed" dogs. 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) struggles with her father in a heart-wrenching performance as he throws Hagen to the side of the road and refuses to go back. While Psotta does a wonderful job, the true star power in White God comes from the dogs, particularly Luke and Body who together play the soulful and heroic chestnut-mut lead.
But Hagen is only one of over 200 dogs in the film, a laudable feat of choreography in itself, and well worth it. The sheer power of watching hundreds of wild, angry beasts ransack a city is reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds, but doubly violent with all-practical stunts that make for an impressively elegant execution. Bold cutting and cinematography go a long way towards making Mundruczó's vision so vivid. As dogs leap over, run by, and even attack the camera, it’s easy to imagine the operator cowering and covered in milk bones. All told, one is unquestionably immersed in an implausible story that exists in a firmly realist world. It is rare that a film pulls off this sort of setup with such grace, but White God's clarity of vision keeps the film sincere, even in its wildest moments.
Although the story is simple, the message is not. The film acts as a analogy for class warfare and the human imperialist stance on the animal kingdom. Mix-breed dogs are considered beasts but only fulfill that prophecy through the inhumanity of the people with whom they come into contact. In truth, the dogs are the civilized ones. The metaphor comes to its final point with a stunningly beautiful closing scene. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that White God’s faith in the innocent, the un-jaded — ultimately its faith in a little girl and her dog — is heart rendering and a reminder to all to have just a little more empathy.