Starring: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Body
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Running Time: 121 mins
White God (Fehér isten) is a Hungarian film about a young girl who fights to find her dog abandoned by her father on the streets, and as she struggles to bring her pet back home, he is falling deeper and deeper into the dark underworld of the city, losing all of the innocence that her love still holds.
While many films tackle deeply disturbing and heart-wrenching subject matters taken from throughout history, or focus on the most pressing social issues of our time, there’s still nothing quite like watching pure innocence being completely obliterated by the darkness of the real world. White God, while by no means a pleasant way to spend two hours, is a masterful display of how easily one’s world can spiral out of control when falling into darkness, and thanks to stunning directing from Kornél Mundruczó throughout, it’s a mind-blowing and painfully enthralling piece of work that will absolutely tear your heart out.
You’ll remember all of those movies from your childhood, watching dogs dodging animal control and mounting elaborate escapes from the pound. Well, this is the same sort of premise, but portrayed in the darkest manner imaginable.
From the beginning, watching our main character, Lili, and her dog, Hagen, be treated so badly after moving away from being with their mother, is absolutely heartbreaking, but that’s nothing compared to what follows over the course of the movie.
As the story progresses, we see Hagen cast out onto the streets and left to survive against threats from all directions, while Lili herself begins to suffer immensely from the loss of her dog and the desperation she feels when it appears that not even her love for him can bring him back. In that, there are two separate stories (sharing a common emotional centre) that make for enthralling watching, and offer countless devastating insights into a wide range of real-world issues, ranging from depression to the horrors that exist in the criminal underworld.
And that’s where that loss of innocence is just so hard-hitting. Films that demonstrate injustice can be absolutely devastating, but in that situation, there is often a way back from the lowest lows, however once a child or a dog’s innocence is lost, there is absolutely no way to go back, something that I found absolutely devastating to witness, particularly in Hagen’s story, as we watch him be manipulated and pushed around by all sorts of terrifying characters as he is turned from a loyal house pet to something completely unrecognisable.
In that, White God is arguably the most depressing film I’ve ever seen. Movies where dogs and children face hardships are always pretty sad, but this film, with its hard-hitting real-world drama and darkness, along with that unrelenting display of a loss of innocence, takes your heart to depths you’ve likely never felt before, beyond that theatrical sort of depression that you only feel in movies, to a complete sense of hopelessness as you witness a story unfold with barely even a flicker of redemption or hope.
So, it’s fair to say that this film isn’t for the faint of heart, but those who can pluck up the courage to make it all the way through will still come away with a lot in exchange for two hours of depression. Above all, this is a brilliantly-directed film, with Kornél Mundruczó crafting a powerfully impacting atmosphere that combines dark cinematography, heavy pacing and a striking score.
What’s more is that this film is one of the most impressive displays of animal performances I’ve ever seen. Zsófia Psotta is excellent in the lead role as Lili, but the most striking performance comes from the dogs who play Hagen himself. Of course, the dogs themselves are definitely talented in this regard, but special credit has to be afforded to their wranglers and trainers, who have them perfectly on point throughout the film, as well as the director himself, who portrays the dogs in such a way that they really do appear as deep characters, with so much more range and drama than we normally see from animal actors in films.
There’s so much that’s incredibly striking about this film, but if there is one thing that really surprised and impressed me, it’s the way in which Mundruczó is able to turn the dogs into such eye-catching characters, leaving you totally on edge as they’re filled with thrilling depth and unpredictability, lending even more to the film’s story.
As good as this film is, however, I do have one fairly major issue with it, and that lies in its final act. Of course, I won’t spoil how the film turns out, but it suffices to say that the film’s final act takes a disappointing turn to a more theatrical and arguably silly story and atmosphere, which, although exciting and striking, doesn’t match up to the gritty real-world drama of the first two-thirds, and definitely doesn’t have the same emotional impact in the run towards the finish.
Overall, White God is a film I won’t be forgetting any time soon. With darkness and depression on levels I’ve never seen before, combined with an unrelentingly upsetting display of a loss of innocence, it’s a film that will drain you of any last shred of hope from start to finish. However, it’s not gratuitous in any way in that regard, and in fact proves a riveting and emotionally affecting drama throughout, furthered by stunning directing and excellent performances that make the film just as impressive as it is heavy-going, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.8.