White God takes the easy route to schlock over allegory– a film review

April 8, 2015

white-god-posterCoupled with several striking film stills taken from the best moments of the movie (just look at the poster), the concept sounds interesting:  In some alternate dimension of contemporary Hungary, owners of mixed-breed dogs are heavily taxed, making these dogs highly undesirable as pets. The kennels are full and the streets are overrun by these “mutts,” as they are derisively referred to by those who hate them. But what happens when these undesirable animals band together in a revolt against those who have abandoned them? With its atonal script and simplistic rationalization that defies genuine logic, White God devolves into melodrama and schlock, betraying any earnest intention for allegory.

I hate questioning a movie’s logic. I’ve always thought it unfair to judge a film against “real life,” especially a fantasy film like White God. But too often this movie features twists in the plot and tonal inconsistencies that challenge the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, which is so crucial to a viewer’s investment in cinema. In order to specify how this movie stumbles, I might reveal some spoilers, but it’s fair in order to understand why this film fails to deliver and may disappoint some with high expectations.

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White God‘s problems mostly stem from the clumsily written script by director Kornél Mundruczó and co-writers Viktória Petrányi and Kata Wéber. There are stretches in metaphors, from the film’s title to an early scene in a meat factory that shows the gruesome disembowelment of a cow’s carcass. There are also glaring plot holes that will lead many viewers to question simple details. The first of which has to be why a divorced mother would leave her daughter and the child’s mixed-breed dog with her ex-husband and fail to pay the dog’s taxes while she takes off on a three-month research trip. It’s conveniently overlooked plot points like this that appear too often throughout the film that will take the critical mind out of what should have been a better written film.

Thirteen-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) loves her sweet, big dog Hagen (played by Luke and Bodie), but her father Dániel (Sándor Zsótér) can’t stand him. A neighbor, conveniently standing on the stairs of their apartment building as Dániel brings Lili and the dog home, confronts the father about the dog. After the neighbor makes up a lie that the dog bit her, an inspector pays them a visit. Fed up with the inconvenience of Hagen, Dániel takes Lili and her pet for a drive, leaving Hagen far from their home. Hagen, alone, then becomes the focus of the film, and for a nice while one of the film’s most impressive aspects shines: the animals. Hagen befriends an adorable Jack Russell Terrier 7(Marlene) that takes the lead in protecting Hagen from a large pack of dogs and shows him how to survive on the streets. During a section of the film that relies upon the gestures of the animals and the film’s editing above words, Mundruczó establishes a heart-warming dynamic that’s thrilling to watch unfold. The dogs have wonderful character, and when the cameras roam with them, from either way above, revealing their impressive numbers, or down below in the streets of Budapest, viscerally connecting the viewer with their claws and huffing and puffing, the film stands at its strongest. But these moments are too fleeting and hardly add up to a movie. More often than not, it feels like the director is straining to hold together his concept, putting Hagen through the ringer when encountering cartoonish versions of human beings, even putting the pooch in the clutches of a dog fighter who trains him to kill, a skill that Hagen will inevitably twist against humanity.

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Even though the film is at its best in wide shots featuring the dogs running in a pack of well over a hundred canines, I could not help getting over the feeling that I have already seen it done more impressively. When White God premiered in Miami last month at the Miami International Film Festival, there was also a Miami-made documentary called The Holders, whose title refers to people who are all too eager to give up their pets to shelters because they have become inconvenient. At the end of the film, we meet animal lovers in Costa Rica who have gathered and healed up hundreds of strays, herding them in the countryside, as if they were sheep. There was something poetic about the extended, unstaged scenes of the massive pack of dogs rushing through streams and winding their way through trees, but it also resonated in ways that White God falls short. It’s something to see if you get a chance. The film has no distributor, but director Carla Forte says she is submitting the movie to festivals now, so if you want to stay posted about upcoming screenings, “like” the film’s Facebook page (Facebook/TheHolders).

Unlike The Holders‘ finale, White God falls most ruinously apart at the end. Any build up toward an allegorical statement is subverted by the film’s third act when the dogs go on the rampage that a flash-forward at the start of the movie has built up to. What should have been the film’s boldest, most evocative moment,4 deteriorates to simple horror movie schlock featuring cheap effects out of a low-budget ’80s horror movie and a very convenient path of revenge by Hagen. It’s hard to sympathize with the killing machine hell-bent on carving such a convenient path to avenge all who have wronged or tried to wrong him.

White God will insult the intelligence of any adult drawn to the film’s allegory. Every peripheral character who deserves their comeuppance gets their due in gory confrontations with the killer dogs, but so what? Since when is simple, gut-pummeling revenge an answer to any problem? Though Lili finds a way to halt the rampage in a manner that will translate to another heavy-handed metaphor, no one is left alive to learn anything. The dogs certainly are not rising above the mastering of the humans by killing them. The film’s logic is fine for children, but too bad it has to be so violent. Moreover, righteous revenge as blunt solution does nothing to solve the supposed problem of the downtrodden. These dogs simply become ISIS on four legs. Any endearment is lost and the heavy-handed finale falls disappointingly flat in its contrivance. Though, again, it ends in a striking image, it takes more than superficial stunts to make White God work.

Hans Morgenstern

White God runs 119 minutes, is in Hungarian with English subtitles and is not rated (there’s some serious violence against and by doggies). It opens at the Miami Beach Cinematheque in Miami-Dade County and the Cinema Paradiso – Hollywood in Broward County in our South Florida area. If you live elsewhere and are looking for screening details in your town, visit this page. Magnolia Pictures provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It first premiered in Miami at the Miami International Film Festival.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

6 Responses to “White God takes the easy route to schlock over allegory– a film review”


  1. Oh, well. Have been wondering about this film since seeing a trailer at the movies a few weeks back. Think I will hold out for “The Holders” instead. 🙂

    • Hans Says:

      Right? It looks interesting, however it lets down. The Cinematheque just informed me they are game to host The Holders after its festival run. It’s an important and well-grounded story that everyone considering a pet must see.


  2. I too was underwhelmed by this confused film. The fact it won the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes built up some expectations, but now I can only express bewilderment as to how it won over the far superior Force Majeure, and the far more fascinating Jauja, both of which were also in that competition.

    • Hans Says:

      I loved Force Majeure! Gave it a very positive review, and it charted among my favorites of last year (still haven’t seen Jauja, but I’m looking forward to it). I can only think that a lot of people have become smitten by the dogs. I heard dog lovers and advocates made the film a hit locally. It doesn’t matter that the story is weak, but the dogs are adorable and they are able to rise up against their oppressors, even if it’s super contrived and schlocky.


  3. […] Carla Forte. Not too long ago, this writer reviewed the Hungarian film “White God“. The most impressive thing about the movie was how the filmmakers wrangled 200 dogs and […]


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