White God: Cornél Mundruczó’s Political Fable of Dog Vs. Man

white_god_posterWhite God, Cornél Mundruczó’s feature, is an emotionally powerful, masterfully made horror-thriller, which is also meant as an allegory about the status of minorities (whichever kind they are) in a society that’s intolerant of any difference or deviance.

Dedicated to the late filmmaker Miklós Jancsó, White God world premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Fest (in the Certain Regard section), and is Hungary’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

The first scene is extremely effective, offering the kinds of scares that evoke Hitchcock’s 1963 masterpiece, The Birds.  It depicts hundreds of feral dogs barking loud as they chase a young girl on her bikes in the deserted streets of Budapest.  What’s going on? What has she done?

 

white_god_1After this intensely disturbing spectacle, the tale settles down by introducing its protagonist, Lili (Zsófia Psotta), a product of a broken family. When her career-oriented mother goes to Australia for a three months business trip, Lili is forced to stay with her strict and grumpy father, who works in a meat-processing plant.

Lili’s dad hates her dog Hagen, a Labrador crossbreed, who’s her only true companion.  Kicked it out of the apartment, he is found on the street by a lowlife, who trains Hagen to be a nasty fighting dog.  Hagen’s aggressive behavior is shared by the other angry dogs in the police pound, and soon the dogs, feeling abused and mistreated, begin to stage a massive uprising.

In the tale that ensues, almost every human character in the story represents a threat or an obstacle to Hagen, the sturdy brown crossbreed with a perky tail who is not particularly attractive but very appealing.

white_god_2In the film’s longest and harshest episode, Hagen is caught by a greedy Turkish restaurant owner who trains him as a fight dog–he builds his attack instincts with a brutal, military-like training regimen, which the initially defiant canine gradually gets used to.

Whether the hundreds of hounds are following or pursuing her Lili becomes clear in the end, when the first scene is recreated and played against a more particular social context.

white_god_3The film’s title White God inevitably evokes Samuel Fuller’s 1982 race-relations allegory, White Dog, which also examines human beings versus animals.