Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Sundance ’15: White God
is like a cross between the Incredible
Journey and Willard/Ben franchises,
but carrying the baggage of recent rise of Hungarian nationalism. The underdogs
are truly underdogs, but they will have their day in Kornél Mundruczó’s
allegorical fable, White God (trailer here), which screens
during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
to everyone’s consternation, Lili and her faithful mutt Hagen must spend the
summer with the father she barely knows. He is not crazy about it either,
especially when a neighbor tips off the authorities to the noisy Hagen. To
encourage purebreds and provide an ominous symbolic parallel, the authorities
have levied a punitive tax on mixed mongrels, like the gentle Hagen.
course, Lili’s veritably deadbeat Daniel is not about to pay Hagen’s licensing
fee, so he dumps him off by the side of the road. He is not the only one to get
this idea. The confused Hagen soon falls in with a pack of newly wild
mix-breeds, learning to evade the animal control thugs. Lili and Hagen try
their best to find each other, but unfortunately, he falls into the hands of an
underground dogfighting trainer, who hopes the mold Hagen into a contender
through his savage conditioning.
you get right down to it, Hagen’s story is more eventful a complete Noah
Baumbach retrospective, but he meets his destiny when he is finally captured
and sent to the pound. Rather than simply wait to be euthanized, Hagen will
rise up like Spartacus and lead a massive dog revolt. In all honesty, this is
what most people will be going to White
God to see—and it is pretty spectacular.
anyone fret, White God was filmed
using American guidelines for animal handling. No animals were harmed during
the process. Presumably, no humans were either, but it is harder to be so
definitive on that point. Regardless, the canines are all eerily expressive,
particularly Luke and Bodie, who play Hagen. Three years ago, everyone’s tail
was wagging for Uggie in The Artist,
but the Labrador-sharpei-hound brothers take animal performance to a higher
Marcell Rév captures the action from a remarkable dog’s eye level. His intimate
perspective really helps anthropomorphize the canines. His wide angle shots also
powerfully render the apocalyptic third act. Oh, the human beings, Zsófia
Psotta and Sándor Zsótér are not bad either, but her acting-out drama with
older school mates gets a bit tiresome.
God title is apparently a half-baked reference caste, creed, colonialism
and everything else that imposes hierarchies on people, but even when the dog-pack
is rampaging, the film never feels as clumsily didactic as that would suggest.
Somehow, Mundruczó just flips the allegorical anarchy switch and we accept it.
It is a pretty impressive feat of direction and animal handling. Indeed, Arpad
Halasz and Teressa Miller (daughter of veteran handler Karl Lewis Miller, whose
credits include Cujo and White Dog) are key collaborators in
realizing Mundruczó’s vision. Hard to define but absolutely worth experiencing,
White Dog screens again tomorrow
(1/25) and next Saturday (1/31) in Park City, during this year’s Sundance Film
Labels: Hungarian Cinema, Sundance '15