White God (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
11Aug/150

White God (2015)

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No mutts allowed, unless you pay the tax.  Hagen, Lili's dog, is thrown out on the streets because her father does not want to pay.  The mutt wanders the streets, finding kindred spirits, before leading a revolution unlike any other.  Kornél Mundruczó writes and directs White God and stars Zsófia Psotta, Bodie, and Luke.

The fightIf I reviewed movies solely on the basis of the aesthetics of individual scenes, then White God would stand towering over almost all the other films I've seen in 2015.  There are so many shots which encompass the beauty and loneliness of sharing time with a pet, then turn that same comfort into a source of violence and fear when the partner is looking to hurt and not share in comfort.  Lead Zsófia Psotta does a great job getting into the insecure headspace of Lili.  I also have to praise the animal trainers, and the canine lead played by Bodie and Luke, as getting images this precise would be difficult with humans and adding dogs to the cast must have made it that much worse.

But the precision and clarity of these images underlines an ideological confusion which forms the core of White God.  In some scenes the violence of the canine revolution which takes place seems visceral, and in others it is a choppily edited near-joke as the dog's obvious play fighting is splashed with dye and cinematic cuts to make it look worse than it really is.  Considering White God is a clear allegory for an underclass uprising the constant shifts in tone, sometimes by necessity of avoiding the depiction of real violence and partly because particular moments call for images of mythic repression or rebellion, it makes its final ideological stance unclear.

This, in a specific manner of speaking, makes White Dog worse than some of the worst movies I've seen this year because they at least adhere to a specific ideology no matter how vile it is.  I may have hated Kingsman, but at least it was consistent with its smirking double-wink of violence and superiority of the ruling class.  White God has sympathies with the dog, Hagen, as well as his owner, Lili, but how those sympathies are directed and to what purpose is unclear because of the inconsistent storytelling.  Because there's at least vague sympathies toward lower class people White God is not as troubling as Kingsman, but makes it more difficult to get a grip on.

The halo of preadolescence fades into puberty is a beautiful if blunt and disconnected scene.

The halo of preadolescence fades into puberty is a beautiful if blunt and disconnected scene.

Take the opening scene, arguably the best in White God, as Lili is riding her bicycle down an empty Hungarian street.  Echoing all around her are the rustling of paws and louder barks until hundreds of dogs appear behind her.  There are no visual cues that this is a dream, so the smash cut to an indeterminate length of time before the event is a source of confusion instead of an enticing mystery.  The wealth of audiovisual hints in White God point toward a canine proletariat uprising, and when we finally loop back to the beginning chase in the timeline of the narrative it's lost what little mystery it had in its opening scenes.

Screenwriter, and director, Kornél Mundruczó has a detriment for over explaining the subtext of his scenes.  One moment has Lili taking tentative steps into a club with a boy she has a crush on as symbolic of steps into becoming a woman.  As if the bathing red light wasn't enough, the boy tells Lili she belongs to him until passing through the menstrual light and abandoning her.  This scene contributes little to the complexity of growing up and exists as an evocative, if unnecessary, detour from the film.  It might have worked in a slice of life drama, but is an odd counterpoint to the overt symbolism of Hagen's adventure.

Hagen is told by a homeless vagrant, "We're both hungry dogs," early in White God, just in case you don't get the point.  The dog becomes a vessel for the lower class, literally struggling for food against the other mutts and not getting the respect of those who own purer breeds.  This brings out racism parallels, except the purity angle in both visuals and dialogue is disposed of early.  What good is it to bring up the idea of racial discrimination against a lower class then not see the metaphor through to its conclusion?

While the varying tones of mythic to visceral to kitchen sink to melodramatic make for an uneven cinematic ideology, the individual compositions are always on-point.

While the varying tones of mythic to visceral to kitchen sink to melodramatic make for an uneven cinematic ideology, the individual compositions are always on-point.

Not much, I'm afraid.  The allegory of uprising is clear but just who this specific underclass is supposed to represent is so murky and ill-defined it could stand for anyone who has less than another, especially since Hagen is a previously well-treated mutt who just ended up in a bad spot.  This is the trouble of making an allegorical film wide enough to fit several different groups at once.  Brokeback Mountain and Battleship Potemkin resonate so strongly because of the specifics of their character's struggle, while White God unmoores in competing signifiers.

Which brings us to one of the biggest problems with White God.  The dogs can't be harmed in "real life", so a confounding editing strategy takes what bite the images might have had and sanitizes it.  There's one moment involving a butcher and eggs which is so terribly edited and out of pace with the relatively languid structure of White God that it was difficult to tell whether the scene was from his perspective, the dog's perspective, of from another stray which entered the scene.  Ideologically, again, what the heck is this supposed to represent - that the proletariat is easily confused, that different races can work together, that oppression is more easily toppled than anyone realizes.  They're all options, and when they're all options, there's no conclusion.  Since there's no conclusion, the moment lands with a thud.

White God is one of those experiences which is less than the sum of its parts, give or take a terribly edited dog fight scene.  I admire the languid pace and beautiful isolation of shots like a man framed in smoky darkness against the neon glow of his elicit enterprise.  But those moments are fleeting, and the full scope of White God is too uneven an experience to recommend or think about further.

If you enjoy my writing or podcast work, please consider becoming a monthly Patron or sending a one-time contribution! Every bit helps keep Can't Stop the Movies running and moving toward making it my day job.

Tail - White GodWhite God (2015)

Screenplay written and directed by Kornél Mundruczó.
Starring Zsófia Psotta, Bodie, and Luke.

Posted by Andrew

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