White God (4 stars)

White God

Gripping canine drama from Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó

Kornél Mundruczó’s arresting, prize-winning drama imagines a revolutionary movement of cruelly abused dogs rebelling against their oppressors, and forcefully makes the point that the people running things are not as superior as they think. This remarkable, original and powerful fable comes from Hungary. No doubt it can be read there as a comment on the country’s political past / future. But there is so little dialogue you need not worry about that. The universality of its theme rings loud and true, while the central characters — an ensemble of mixed breed rescue dogs, extraordinarily choreographed — are as affecting and expressive as any of this year's human awards contenders.

13-year-old Lili (the terrific Zsófia Psotta) is bereft when her beloved, part-Labrador mutt Hagen (played by siblings Luke and Body) is abandoned on the side of a motorway by her unsympathetic father. The authorities have clamped down on mongrels, extorting huge taxes to license them and pressuring people struggling in a poor economy to dump their ‘inferior’ dogs, who are then swept up in mass collections, locked up in shelters and exterminated. The betrayed, discarded Hagen has to learn street smarts quickly, befriended by an adorably itsy but plucky pooch. But while Lili desperately searches for Hagen he falls afoul of a succession of beastly masters until he is driven to bite back, a canine Spartacus inspiring a mass pack of fellow outcasts to rise up against man.

There are echoes of many animal tales and allegories, from Lassie Come Home and The Incredible Journey to The Birds, but Mundruczó skillfully weaves adventure, coming-of-age, prison-escape and revenge-thriller tropes into a mythic, emotional and visceral experience that poses moral questions about how people treat animals and how people treat people. And thrilling shots of hundreds of furious dogs tearing through Budapest (to a rousing orchestration of Franz Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’) are like nothing you have ever seen.

Selected release from Fri 27 Feb.

White God | Official Trailer

White God (Fehér Isten)

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • Hungary / Germany / Sweden
  • 2h 1min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó
  • Cast: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth
  • UK release: 27 February 2015

Hagen, a mongrel dog, is abandoned by the father of his teenage owner (Psotta, terrific); he quickly learns street smarts and is ultimately driven to lead a rebellion against the humans. Arresting, Hungarian drama with extraordinary animal choreography, posing hard questions about how people treat animals – and other…