Keswick Film Club - Reviews - White God

Reviews - White God

White God

Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

White God
White God
After a gentle start to the season, 'White God' was a return to more challenging film making, and challenging it certainly was. Theoretically staring a young girl (Zsófia Psotta as Lili), the real stars were 274 dogs who were running wild in the streets of Budapest – from the very first shot, where we see Lili riding through deserted streets on her bike closely pursued by them. A scary start certainly, so was this just a horror movie – a rerun of Hitchcock's 'The Birds' but with dogs?

The first half of the film positions the plot in a Hungary where 'mixed breed' dogs have been made subject to a special tax (for no apparent reason, just because they are mongrels). Lili's mother goes off to Australia for 3 months with her new boyfriend, leaving Lili and her dog Hagen with her father, who just happens to hate dogs. When he realises he is going to have to pay this tax to keep Hagen in his flat, he dumps the dog on the street and drives off.

We follow Lili making efforts to find Hagen (pretty half-hearted in my view. She didn't seem upset enough to me: I felt a bit of hysterical anger was called for. Instead she soon settles down with Dad trying to practice her trumpet and stay in her orchestra). We also see Hagen follow a couple of Disney-like adventures with other street dogs – including a sweet little mutt who befriends him - before he is captured and trained as a fighting dog (turn away dog-lovers here, though there is little violence actually shown, just implied).
Hagen eventually escapes from his violent 'owner', only to be reunited with the sweet mutt and then caught and put in a dog pound. Here his fight training comes into its own; he kills one of the human pound-workers and escapes, closely followed by all the other dogs – cue the amazing scenes with dogs running berserk.

Hagen isn't after revenge on all humans, though, just the ones he considers have caused him harm. Amazingly, all the other dogs seem to have the same idea – to help him kill his human enemies. How he showed them which ones to kill, or why they didn't go after their own tormentors was not explained (I suppose this was the 'just a horror movie' part of the film: they don't need to explain, just have the violence) Either way, the dogs run from place to place, being shot at by armed policemen and savaging Hagen's enemies.

Lili, of course, finds out about the dog army and realises it has to have something to do with Hagen. She hits the deserted streets with her bike and her trumpet until she is trapped by the dogs in the grounds of the abattoir where her Dad works. As he struggles to get doors open to rescue her, the dogs move ever closer... Lili backs slowly away trying to calm Hagen down.
How does it end? Well, of course, a quick tune on her trumpet which Hagen recognizes and he lies down, followed by all the other dogs...and then Lili and her Dad. Fade to titles, avoiding the inescapable question 'what happened to the killer dogs when the police caught up?'

You may have noticed my note of incredulity here; the basic plot was not very believable to me. That said the dogs were amazing – it must be the first time any film maker has attempted to have so many dogs acting (the 2 dogs that played Hagen won the 'Palme Dog' award at Cannes!). The second half of the film could definitely be seen as an indictment of a world that mistreats the underdogs (sorry), which is so very appropriate at this time, and I enjoyed that enormously. Was it good overall? Two attendees spoke to me as we left the cinema; the first said 'that was the worst film I have ever seen', the second said 'totally riveting'! Definitely a film I wanted to see, definitely cleverly made and with a good point to make. You had to be there to decide if it worked or not.

This week there are two chances to enjoy the film club: on Sunday you can see 'Mommy' from the Canadian director Xavier Dolan and on Tuesday we start a season of Classic Films with a brand new digital re-release of 'The Third Man'. Come on along!

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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