“Fur flies and blood flows in White God, a fierce and beautiful Hungarian parable about a girl, her dog, and the uprising that’s sparked after they are separated,” begins Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Kornél Mundruczó’s film “goes from melodrama to hallucination after the girl’s father throws the dog into the streets. As she searches for the male dog, Hagen, he takes up with other strays (including a scene-nipping Jack Russell), escapes from dog-pound baddies and ends up doped up with sharpened teeth in a fighting pit…. Yet just as Hagen seems doomed, the story takes a sharp, wild turn when the dogs rise up against their tormentors, toppling the master-slave dynamic.” Mundruczó tells Dargis that, after another project fell through, he wanted to do “something quick, easy, fast, radical, partisan.”
Strike “easy,” though. For one thing, he needed around 250 dogs. Dargis: “When the dogs break free and run through the streets in White God, demolishing barriers and biting the human hands that have hit them, the movie takes a leap into bold political metaphor, offering up a memorable image of the great unwashed gone (literally) barking mad.”
The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw notes that Mundruczó’s dedicated the film to the late Miklós Jancsó. “Jancsó might well have enjoyed this startling and elusive parable.” It “has a flair and a bite which I have found lacking in Mundruczó’s earlier films.”
“According to Mundruczó,” notes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter, “White God is intended as a statement of solidarity for marginal and oppressed people. There are certainly strong echoes of Nazi-style ethnic cleansing in his depiction of an intolerant society imposing harsh new laws against mongrels, an increasingly timely theme in the light of recent election gains by Hungary’s neo-Nazi party Jobbik. Another anti-racist allusion is coded in the film’s title, a play on Sam Fuller‘s cultish 1982 movie White Dog, about a vicious German Shepherd trained to attack dark-skinned people. Most shot in jerky hand-held style, with a stridently percussive score pumping up every hint of tension, White God falls somewhere between a superior genre thriller and a Big Statement movie.”
“The unexpected descent into Grand Guignol recalls that of Mundruczó’s last film, the humanized Mary Shelley riff Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety. “This exaggerated development may throw viewers misled by the film’s introductory realism. It’s a risky shift toward the poetically aberrant that would not work if Mundruczó’s storytelling weren’t so rousing and emotionally purposeful—not to mention morally challenging, as man and dog are accorded equally flawed, vengeful psychologies in the film’s universe.”
It’s a “a parable of fascism and the obsession of a pure race against which stands just one teenage girl, a sort of little sister of Joan of Arc from [Mundruczó’s] Johanna and Fauna from Delta,” writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa.
Updates, 5/22: “I am still bewitched, two days after the screening; it’s the most surprising film I can remember seeing at Cannes,” writes Nick Roddick, dispatching to Sight & Sound. “White God confirms Mundruczó’s position as one of Europe’s most exciting, unpredictable and technically competent directors. In a world where so many filmmakers seem to rework the same material over and over, he’s is a true wild card—a filmmaker with ‘un certain regard’ if ever there was one.”
In the Film Comment roundtable, Marco Grosoli notes that White God can’t “decide if it should be a horror film or a Disney children’s film, and that’s part of the charm of it, actually. Because at the end you don’t really quite know from which position you are associating the other or the otherness with, precisely because he doesn’t make choices with regard to genre, and as such he can’t take a position. But this inability is actually interesting because it shows a symptomatic lack of position at a broader ideological level.”
Update, 5/23: White God “is certainly one of the most ambitious and original films in an uncertain Un Certain Regard sidebar, so the news, hot off the press that it has won the UCR top prize is very welcome indeed,” finds Jessica Kiang, who gives the film a A-/B+ at the Playlist.
Update, 5/24: “Although the movie opens with a sentimental-sounding Rilke quotation (‘Everything terrible is something that needs our love’), there are also hints that the movie’s allegory extends to anyone society somehow treats as undesirable,” writes Ben Kenigsberg at RogerEbert.com. “White God mainly impresses with its amazing, large-scale animal work, particularly a sequence depicting a large pack of dogs’ bloody escape from a shelter. The closing credits say that no animals were harmed during training or filming, and that the dogs featured in the movie were subsequently adopted through a special program. (There’s an adorable, lengthy ‘thank you’ section listing the canines by name.) The two dogs who played Hagen shared the unofficial Palm Dog award. It was the least anyone could do; those mutts deserve hazard pay. Anyone sensitive to animal violence should stay far, far away.”
“As for the parable about the marginalized people of the world rising up, it has no coherence and simply makes no sense,” argues John Bleasdale at CineVue. Two out of five stars.
White God “has found buyers in a raft of territories, including France, the U.K., Scandinavia, Benelux, Spain, Greece, Czech and Slovak Republic, Taiwan and South Korea,” reports Variety‘s Leo Barraclough. “Deals are expected to be signed for the U.S. and Japan before the end of the festival.” And The Match Factory “will follow up further offers from Italy, Portugal, Turkey, the Baltics, India, Brazil and Mexico.”
Updates, 3/21: Jesse Cataldo at Slant: “Mundruczó’s fable of liberation and redemption is far less distinctive than its high-culture trappings might indicate, an amorphous allegory that’s part canine spin on Hitchcock’s The Birds, part art-house Benji, never moving past a basic conception of animals as adorable, attention-grabbing blank-slate symbols.”
“The film winks on occasion in naturalism’s direction (albeit a more Greengrassian type than Bressonian, despite White God having received many comparisons for animal suffering, I guess, with Au Hasard Balthazar),” writes Steve Macfarlane in the L. “When the tidal wave of pissed-off-animal payback finally does happen, it is of course impossible not to cheer—once because it’s the film’s selling point, a second time because it’s also hilarious for the watching.”
“DP Marcell Rev does a superb job of filming around the unwatchable, as well as directly on the enormous pack of racing animals that overwhelm Budapest without the benefit of CGI,” writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker.
White God is “an allegory of fascism, a horror movie and a canine variation on the themes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. “Or maybe it’s Benji: The Hunted remade as a bloody revenger’s tragedy. In any case, it’s something to see, and not quite like anything else in New Directors or out of it.”
Yonca Talu interviews Mundruczó for Film Comment.
Updates, 3/29: Here’s a “revenge fantasy that’s like nothing you’ve seen on screen before,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Hagen isn’t a wee human in a fuzzy costume; he doesn’t have a digital mouth, talk to other animals or share his thoughts. The radicalness of the movie is that it asserts he doesn’t need to be like a person for you to be on his side. He is a dog, and that’s all he needs to be.”
“It’s the sort of film that gets labeled a parable (slaves versus masters, etc.) for added prestige, but I like it just fine as a B revenge movie with A-plus direction,” writes Vulture’s David Edelstein.
But at Reverse Shot, Nick Pinkerton argues that White God “is an utter and complete piece of irredeemable, self-important feculence.” More from A.A. Dowd (AV Club, C+), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Steve Macfarlane (L), Farran Smith Nehme (New York Post), Tasha Robinson (Dissolve, 3.5/5), Dan Schindel (Movie Mezzanine), Matt Zoller Seitz (RogerEbert.com, 3.5/4) and Jose Solís (Film Experience).
Updates, 4/25: “There are bursts of vital, violent imagery that rest cleanly in George Miller-Mad Max territory,” writes Ray Pride at Newcity Film. “The ending, paying off a music-hath-charms refrain throughout the movie, a feat of true genuflection, is as beautiful as it is absurd.”
More from Rick Alverson (Entertainment) at the Talkhouse Film. And more interviews with Mundruczó: Anya Jaremko-Greenwold (BOMB) and Stephen Saito.
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