White God is a Hungarian movie directed by Kornél Mundruczó and it is a daring and moving story about a young girl (Lilli) and her relationship with her dog (Hagen). It opens with Lilli riding her bike and getting chased by hundreds of unleashed dogs in the empty streets of Budapest; it has a dream like quality to it and it is very cinematic and gripping. After the opening credits, we are introduced to Lilli’s estranged father, Daniel, who is a meat inspector and we see him overseeing the disembowelment of a dead cow which sort of ties neatly to the overall theme of the movie. Lilly’s mother drops Lilly off at Daniel’s place since she is going away for a few months in pursuit of a new job. The whole thing is an inconvenience to her busy father and it is only exacerbated when he discovers that Lilli is also bringing her beloved dog, Hagen. Hagen is a mixed breed dog and not a pure Hungarian one and that creates a problem since Daniel lives in a building where pets are not allowed unless they’re registered and paid for. A stingy, old neighbor reminds them that if they don’t register the dog that she will have to notify the management.
Lilli and Hagen are inseparable; she plays the trumpet and starts bringing him to her music rehearsals which ends up causing a problem with the no-nonsense conductor. Her father becomes furious with her and even more displeased with Hagen. After an incident at Lilly’s rehearsal, Daniel gives her an ultimatum with Hagen. He says that they can’t keep him anymore and he wants to put him in an animal shelter, but Lilly thinks the worst of animal shelters and prefers if he was set free and Daniel takes her up on it and cruelly abandons the dog in the middle of the street. What follows is nothing short of breathtaking as we see Hagen lost and trying to find his way back to Lilli. The camera completely focuses on Hagen and how he views the world, it’s like Baby’s Day Out but much more realistic. Hagen’s interactions with other dogs especially one he befriends is fascinating; at this point in the movie the story is all about Hagen for a while and you start to wonder if there is going to be any dialogue for the rest of the movie. The movie does go back to Lilli and her attempt to find Hagen while also dealing with being a teenager and preparing for her big performance. There are scenes in which street dogs are being captured by animal control officers at the junkyard and those scenes are reminiscent of Planet of the Apes. While escaping the animal control officers, Hagen ends up in the hands of a homeless person who at first seems like Hagen’s savior, ends up immediately selling Hagen to a guy who sells dogs for people who run dog fights. Hagen is later sold to a new owner who buys the dog solely to train him to kill dogs; these scenes are devastating as we see Hagen transform right before our eyes. This movie does a great job of questioning our usually unquestionable ownership and dominion over dogs.
As Hagen’s path leads to the darkest of places, Lilli also gets sucked into the usual young teen shenanigans and starts growing apart with her father who she won’t forgive. Zsófia Psotta is the young Hungarian actress who plays Lilli and she is great and believable in this role. The cinematography in this film is astounding and what the film maker was able to achieve with these dogs (hundreds of them) is a miracle and is unlike anything you’ve ever seen or will ever see on screen. There is one particular scene in which Hagen escapes the dog fight arena and the camera follows him in the dark, but the light from the camera is shining on him as he is running and contemplating about what he has become and it’s one of many perfect moments in the movie. The third act turns into a fantastically ridiculous and thrilling revenge tale that is almost darkly comical, as we see Hagen leading an uprising in the animal shelter and it all leads up to that opening shot of Lilli getting chased by the escaped dogs. The brutality of the dog fight scenes reminded me of the 2001 classic Amores Perros; the dogs in this movie were trained well, the people involved in the making of the film actually found homes for all of the shelter dogs after filming wrapped. The film is a hidden gem that many will not hear about, but it is available on Netflix and I can’t recommend this movie enough; it is truly a masterpiece. (9.5/10)