Lili (newcomer Zsófia Psotta) and her dog Hagen lead a rebellious life – she even gets kicked out of music class for bringing Hagen into class and hiding him in the instrument closet, before he busts out and brings his own barky brand of baritone to the orchestra. Lili’s father (Sándor Zsótér), a controlling but loving figure in Lili’s life, leaves Hagen by the roadside, never to badly influence his daughter’s life again. What ensues is a chaotic struggle to get back home, although few detours on the way see Hagen end up being captured, and turned into a brutal dog-fighting champion. Meanwhile, Lili’s father begins to understand his daughter, but as she lives her life, she continues to search in vain for her missing dog.
From the moment we witness Hagen barking at Lili’s car, which is rapidly moving over the horizon to be gone forever, we are instantly emotionally invested in what comes next. If you’ve ever seen Homeward Bound, you’ll always feel like crying when seeing animals get left behind; as for the live-action White God, which uses incredible animals and trainers to provide some extraordinary results, the bond will be even stronger. Mundruczó has a mastery over his canine actors, who serve as the centre of superb sequences that are, plain and simple, silent cinema. We follow Hagen and his new raggy friends as they bound through the city streets as they escape the dog pound captors.
But the most incredible sequence is the one that’s promised during the dreamy opening shot; a deserted city, occupied by none other than Lili shouting ‘Hagen!’, before hundreds of dogs fill the streets in a frenzy of furry vengeance. It’s as if The Birds were retooled by fido, and granted the scope of 28 Days Later. But it’s a melodrama at its heart, combining stirring strings with scenes of Spielbergian sentiment; but for a movie so exquisitely realised in each aspect, it’s startling to see such a good movie dragged down by a bad score. Some of the pop music cues work brilliantly, but it’s the exclusively written music that sounds almost cheap, and while White God is eventually quite epic in the end, its run time of two hours doesn’t feel entirely necessary to bring this tale of ultimately personal reconciliation to the screen.
White God is an expertly mounted, and for the most part, successful movie that combines world cinema with a sort of western sensibility; if you don’t fall in love with these animals, this story, or even theseh umans, then your heart may very well be made of stone.