If someone wants to make a case that our four-legged actor friends deserve to be considered for Oscar consideration, right alongside Streep and McConaughey, they need only offer White God as evidence. The exhilirating, if heavy-handed Hungarian film, which won the Un Certain Regard honors at Cannes, features a lead performance by two dogs named Body and Luke — alternating as the distressed Hagen — that is nothing short of extraordinary.
Even as the movie moves from the realism of gritty family drama to flights of fantasy, they keep it grounded in a gripping canine reality.
The troubles for Hagen — a Shar-Pei and Lab mix — begin when his 13-year-old owner, Lili (Zsofia Psotta), is sent by the girl’s divorced mom to live with her emotionally cold father, Daniel (Sandor Zsoter) for three months. Lili and Hagen are inseparable, but Dad hates dogs. The local Budapest government requires owners of mixed-breed dogs to pay a fee and Daniel’s apartment doesn’t allow dogs, both of which underscore his desire to get rid of Hagen.
He forces Lili to leave Hagen by the side of the road, and that’s when the dog’s nightmares begin. He has to go from having all his needs met to fending for himself and finds that the world is not a pretty place. Things get worse when he ends up in the hands of a man who trains dogs for back-alley dog fights. (Dog lovers be warned: There are scenes here that are heart-wrenching to watch.)
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Slowly, White God moves into Planet of the Apes territory as the dogs — with Hagen as the instigator — begin to organize against their tormentors, though, thankfully, they never learn to talk. It culminates in an amazing scene with more than 200 dogs charging through the streets of Budapest, bringing the city to a standstill. (Director Kornel Mundruczo has said there was no CGI used.)
There are parallels here to ethnic tensions roiling in all parts of the world, and the film sends a strong message — everyone, even a dog, has a breaking point where he or she will fight back.
In Hungarian with English subtitles
Exclusive: The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Director: Kornel Mundruczo
Cast: Zsofia Psotta, Sandor Zsoter
Rated: R (violent content including bloody images, strong language)
Running time: 121 min.