NZIFF Review - White God
One of the most searing films at the New Zealand International Film Festival is White God a terrific piece that at its heart is about an uprising from the lower classes.
But featuring dogs, who spend a lot of time emoting before erupting into violence.
Broadly speaking, this Hungarian piece is about Lili, a young girl whose mother's gone abroad for work for 3 months and who's forced to live with her father in a world that's demanding dog owners register non pure breeds.
Along with her trusted mixed mutt Hagen, Lili finds living with her dad difficult, and things get worse when rather than pay the tax, pops throws Hagen out onto the streets and forces him to fend for himself.
So it's your usual girl meets dog, girl loses dog, girl tries to find dog story.
Except via narrative avenues that demand this dog Hagen is drained of all his softer traits and trained up into a fighting killer...
White God is incredible - a tail (sorry) of epic proportions that pulls every possible punch when following Hagen. Opening with Lili riding her bike through a deserted town before being relentlessly pursued by hundreds of marauding dogs intent on doing her wrong, the film switches back to before the Mutt-pets Take Manhattan.
It's here White God disarms you with a sweet tale of a girl who's lost her dog, before switching to darker territory and giving the pooch a canine arc to go through. Music and mutts form a large part of the piece with the director Kornel Mundruczo preferring to use crescendos of music and dramatically swelling overtures to build atmosphere (maybe veering close to over-using this); but it's the labrador mix lead dog as Hagen (played by 2 dogs) who soars in this as much as any human would given the story they take on. (Plus you can't deny the friendship struck with a Jack Russell that will provide some of the cutesier moments that would make other animal flicks blush)
Anthropomorphising the animals is a wise move, but leads to allegories of the lower classes rising up against its oppressors; and a fighting sequence may prove a little much for some. Though, it must be argued those emotions are only present because the amount you've invested into the animals and their respective fates)
But stick with White God, because the pay off is terrifically believable as the pooches rise up against those who've done them wrong through the years. Shooting from a dog level is a simple touch, but one which gives the world credence and keeps it out of the cutesy Disney-esque territory.
White God is exactly the kind of fare that the Festival exists for - to bring an alternative kind of film to the masses; it's a bold and bravura film that rewards your taking a punt on it.