Tuesday, 27 February 2018

White God (2014) - isn't an easy watch

"Everything terrible is something that needs our love."

- Rainer Maria Rilke

The film by Kornél Mundruczó follows the mixed-breed dog Hagen, who befriends 13-year old Lili and comforts her in her confusion as she goes to live with her strict, estranged father, who has not seen Lili since she was a small child. Because Hagen is a mixed-breed, he is subject to a large "mongrel" fee imposed by the Hungarian government, which Lili's father is unwilling to pay, offering instead to buy Lili a purebred dog if only she will get rid of Hagen. Lili is angry that her father thinks Hagen can be so easily replaced, and the incident underscores the lack of understanding between father and daughter.

Fearful that her father will get rid of Hagen while she is away, Lili takes the dog to her music class, where his appearance causes chaos. The teacher yells at Lili to take the dog home and threatens to kick her out of the music class if she leaves. Instead, Lili strikes out with Hagen into the city, but they are found by her father, who left work to find them after the music teacher phoned him. Lili's father is embarrassed by the incident, and in his anger, he drives Hagen to the outskirts of the city and abandons him on the side of the road. Hagen chases after their car but is unable to follow them.

Hagen begins a lonely journey wandering the city. He eventually befriends a white dog after it saves him from an angry butcher. After spending the night with other street dogs, a dog catcher pursues Hagen and the other street dogs. After a long chase, Hagen avoids the dog catchers with the help of a homeless man. However, the man sells Hagen to a dog fighting ring, where he is chained, starved, and trained to kill. In his first fight, he kills his opponent and escapes. He is caught by animal control officers and brought to the city dog pound.

Meanwhile Lili, still angry with her father and upset by the loss of Hagen, goes to a party where she drinks alcohol. The party is raided by the police, and Lili is taken to the station and her father called. Arriving to pick her up, her father breaks into tears and admits that he was wrong to get rid of Hagen and that while he does not understand the now-teenage Lili, he still loves her. The two reconcile and her father, in a gesture of getting reacquainted with his daughter, promises to attend her upcoming concert.
On the other side of the city, Hagen escapes from the pound after killing one of the staff. He breaks open the cages and frees the other dogs, who follow him into the city. With Hagen as their leader, the dogs start an uprising against their human oppressors, wreaking mayhem as Hagen locates and kills all the people who harmed him. The pack reaches the concert hall where Lili is playing, and the concert-goers barricade themselves within for safety. Spotting Hagen, Lili sneaks out of the concert hall and follows the dog pack on her bicycle.

Followed by his army, Hagen goes to the slaughterhouse where Lili's father works, where they appear on the verge of taking revenge on him when Lili arrives. At first, Hagen growls at Lili and has his pack surround her. Her father rushes from the building armed with a blowtorch to defend his daughter, but instead, Lili plays Franz Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" on her trumpet. Hagen seems to forgive her and takes his place by her side. All the other dogs lie down in a gesture of reconciliation as Lili sits in their midst and continues to play. Her father, stunned at the scene, puts down his weapon and goes to sit beside his daughter.

- "White God isn't an easy watch, but its soaring ambition and powerful acting — human and canine alike — make it well worth the effort." -

* * *

• 274 dogs were used in the making of this movie which is the world record for the most dogs used in a feature film.

All of the untrained dogs appearing on film are mixed breeds adopted from animal shelters.

• Hagen is portrayed by twin dogs Luke and Body. They were found in a caravan park in Arizona just as their owner was about to take them to an animal shelter.

• All dogs that were used in the film (other than the two trained actor dogs that played Hagen) had been from local shelters and went through training for the film. By the end of the film, because the dogs were all over the streets with individual trainers all the time during filming, they all found homes.

• Official submission of Hungary to the best foreign language film category of the 87th Academy Awards 2015.

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