Kornél Mundruczó’s White God opens on one of the most arresting images you’ll see at the cinema this year, as young Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is pursued on her bike through the empty streets of Budapest by a horde of dogs.
After this striking opening, the film takes a step back, but it has the strength and depth to follow through on the promise of its overture. When her mother goes on holiday, Lili has to stay with her short-tempered father Dániel (Sándor Zsótér).
He isn’t happy about the fact that Lili has brought her dog Hagen with her, especially when the neighbours complain about an animal in the building. Their relationship deteriorates, and before long he has thrown Hagen out of the car and onto the streets of Budapest. As Lili desperately searches for her dog, Hagen begins a horrifying journey that will change him forever.
At first glance, White God might not look like the kind of film that falls under SciFiNow’s purview. The bulk of the film is divided between Lili’s struggles at home and at school, and some quite shocking animal cruelty, as Hagen is chased through the streets by dogcatchers before being abducted and trained to fight.
However, the film shifts between genres, as Mundruczó channels Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Homeward Bound, Amores Perros, Eighties action movies and social realism, all the while building to a stunning conclusion that is earned by the build and conviction of the filmmakers.
Mundruczó certainly makes the brutality affecting, but it’s never exploitative. He depicts violent treatment of animals to make a broader point. It’s impossible not to appreciate the film’s wider message of intolerance and cruelty as a lack of communication drives Lili, any potential father figures and even friends, while Hagen has the goodness beaten out of him until he becomes the vicious animal that allows his trainer to win.
It never feels like Mundruczó is preaching. His bold blend of genres comes together beautifully to create a moving and powerful fable that will stay with you for days.