White God (2014)


Finally got to see Kornél Mundruczó‘s 2014 film: White God last night: Benji it is not.


Here’s the quickest and most accurate synopsis (via Wikipedia):

The film follows the mixed-breed dog Hagen who moves, along with his guardian Lili, in with Lili’s father. Unwilling to pay a harsh “mongrel” fine imposed by the government, Lili’s father abandons him. Determined to find Lili again, Hagen soon attracts a large pack of half-breed followers who start a seemingly organised uprising against their human oppressors.

As a film, it’s a little clunky in parts, but that is my one lone critique of an otherwise amazing movie.  The visual of 250 dogs running rampant through civilized society is worth it alone.  Even more impressive is the complete absence of CGI.  All the dogs are real.  Real strays, from a pound, cutting loose like 4th graders at recess.



The ever-sharp Tasha Robinson (via the Dissolve) points out the sort of dual viewing behavior that manifests itself while watching the film.  While it’s easy to get caught up in the allegory of the disenfranchised, you keep watching and thinking: How did they get those dogs to do that?

Mundroczo explains:

The dogs felt they were playing. It’s a dramatized nature movie, somehow. We gave lots of freedom for the animals. I don’t like most animal movies because the animals [feel] dead. They follow orders with lots of fear of the trainer. What were are doing was just the opposite. Logistically, we had half a year of training time. We had a very special method for shooting: one week shooting, one week rehearsing. We built a kind of town in the countryside where we could rehearse, because you cannot block locations in the city. And for me, personally, it was like therapy. I forgot how it was to be close to animals. How much patience and how much time you need, and concentration and curiosity. I have an adult controlfreak attitude. The dogs taught me a lot.


Which also leads me to wonder how to accurately judge the acting ability of the lead dog: Hagen (who was played by two identical littermates from Arizona).  Sure, most of the “emotive” scenes with the dogs are probably due to great technical movie-making, (i.e.  editing, timing, etc.),  but I can’t help but think some of these dogs are the best actors I’ve seen lately.  Like White Fang, the emotions that drive story are propelled by the animals just as much as the humans.  If they weren’t so believable, the whole film simply wouldn’t work.


Anyway, my basic premise here is simply: “See this movie!”.  The only warning I would give is that it’s a bit more violent than the trailer suggest (uprisings usually contain some bloodshed), but the payoff of the last scene will leave you floored.   I guarantee that when you get home the first look you give your canine companion, waiting patiently for you, will be a little different than it was before…

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