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Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // March 27, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
The treatment of animals on both the silver screen and in reality has been a controversial topic for many years. Fortunately, abuse has been taken more seriously over the years, although it's still a very current issue that continues to haunt societies all around the world. If you've ever had a dog or a cat, then you know the absolute joy that they can bring to the family. In fact, they become part of the family, rather than a pet that is taken care of. Writer/director Kornél Mundruczó and co-writers Viktória Petrányi and Kata Wéber utilize this idea by crafting a film that is both tremendously moving, yet incredibly difficult to watch. However, its message is loud and clear, with an impact that could pierce even the thickest of emotional armor.
Thirteen-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is forced to live with her estranged father when her mother and step-father are going out of the country on business. After the apartment refuses to allow Lili's dog, Hagen to stay, Lili's father abandons him on the streets. Lili fights to find Hagen and bring him home, as she continues to believe that her love can conquer anything. She sets on a journey that will change her life forever.
The themes of family and love run deep in White God. Whether it's found within the relationship of Lili and Hagen, Lili and her father, or Lili and a boy that she likes, this is a film that centers around the young girl and all that surrounds her. Hagen acts much like a brother, while her estranged father hardly seems like family. Lili's affections for a specific boy are often what drive her to take certain actions, which directly affect the plot's progressions. However, the bond held between Lili and Hagen is immense, as the feature often parallels their journeys in self-discovery. Lili faces a world without her best friend, and must confront all that she has tried to ignore. Meanwhile, Hagen is forced to fight for survival in a world that he hardly understands. They are both fueled by the hope that they may see each other one once again, but such aspirations are diminished by the brutal obstacles that break them both down psychologically. The motif that connects them is Lili's trumpet, which has the power to calm them physically and emotionally. White God is entirely built upon this bond, which is remarkably relatable and truly effective.
The first quarter of the running time places the audience in the world of Lili and Hagen before splitting them apart. Once they are abandoned in a world that they don't understand, they are both taken advantage of in different ways. White God is a testament to the human spirit, as well as the spirit of the dog. Even despite their hardships, they must remain unbroken, but that simply isn't reasonable. The film becomes progressively more difficult to watch, as Hagen is abused in nearly every way imaginable. His spirit is broken down, which ultimately creates a monster inside of him that craves vengeance. This begs the question: who are the real beasts? The dogs or the humans? In this case, the film has a strong stance on this issue, as humans are portrayed as greedy and disgusting, while the dogs are willing to utilize some of the very same traits in order to take their vengeance upon humans for the countless hours of abuse. The master-dog relationship is prominently displayed, as Lili tells Hagen that he will never be treated like that. She acts as the "black sheep" among the crowd, as she desperately searches for her lost best friend.
If White God doesn't leave you feeling a tidal wave of emotions, then something is wrong. Mundruczó, Petrányl, and Wéber's screenplay manipulates the audiences' emotions, and tugs on every heart string imaginable. This makes the film incredibly difficult to watch, but it has resulted in something unforgettable. Mundruczó's feature is unlike anything else out there. The pacing is remarkably smooth, as it builds to a final act that is both brutal and epic. By the time that the credits begin rolling, it truly feels as if we have embarked upon these journeys with Lili and Hagen. White God makes a universal message, yet it feels so tremendously personal. It's one of the most powerful films of the year thus far, as it truly digs underneath the skin of the viewer and makes us feel things that cinema always dreams of doing, but rarely achieves.
Writer/director Kornél Mundruczó's visual design is incredibly impressive. White God opens with a sense of stillness in a frame with an abundance of movement. Much like the story's pacing, the movement continues to escalate as the picture fills with dogs to epic proportions. There's a lot of shaky cam, but it works rather well here. It increases the immediacy of the plot, and gives the picture a sense of reality. This especially holds true for the chases that take place between Hagen and Canine Control. Mundruczó manages to make a seemingly run-of-the-mill sequence feel more intense. This is only made more powerful by score mixer and recordist Tamas Kurina. It simply causes this seemingly small environment feel expansive with its large soundscape.
Animal lovers everywhere will have a lot of difficulty making it all of the way through White God, but the brutality is far from gratuitous. In fact, it speaks volumes about the world that we live in, and how dogs fit into human society. Ultimately, it's all about the bond between Lili and Hagen, which is guaranteed to melt even the coldest of hearts. The pacing is smooth as can be, and is guaranteed to have you captivated until the credits are done rolling. At this point, this is a film that deserves to be discussed for hours. Writer/director Kornél Mundruczó's visual design is absolutely brilliant, as he often experiments with the movement of both the camera and the subjects within the frame. White God is a monumentally impactful and superbly-crafted piece of cinema. Highly recommended!
White God was released in New York on March 27th and will be released in Los Angeles on April 3rd.