Sunday, April 12, 2015

White God

Before sitting down for this movie, I joked on social media that I wished the distributors had chosen a less ominous name so that families expecting a traditionally upbeat girl-and-her-dog movie with the dog encountering friendly people on the way back to his mistress would be sucked in and shocked. I don't really mean that, of course - just like I don't actually describe Takashi Miike's Audition as a romantic comedy - but it's amusing to note that I first saw the preview for this one in front of Song of the Sea, so somebody at the theater either just looked at the briefest of descriptions of has a similarly perverse sense of humor.

I don't know whether to advise people to seek that trailer out or not, though, because it gives away some of the best shots, and as much as they were still great, I found myself waiting for them rather than completely blown away when they showed up. I don't necessarily blame the folks who cut it - this is an unusual enough movie that you sort of need to dangle some of the amazing bits in front of a potential audience rather that just let the premise do its job - but it also must be an absolutely amazing thing to go into cold. Try and do that if you possibly can.

One thing that kind of surprised me - and probably wouldn't if I had actually had a dog of my own more recently than childhood (I enjoy both living in a city and travel too much to make it practical) - is how down on mixed-breed dogs the local government in this movie seems to be. Is that the case here? I know there is some snobbery about them vis-a-vis purebreds, but it's undeserved; they tend to both be great dogs and much hardier than fancy breeds. As an example, consider my co-worker's Yorkshire Terrier Joey. Great little dog who has a ton of health problems - he showed us a daily pill organizer as loaded as the ones used by my grandparents - with many stories of both the expense and surprise on the part of pharmacists that he and his wife would be spending that on their dog. But what's he doing to do, not look after the little guy's health? The point is, the eugenics necessary to make a wolf into a yorkie have some pretty serious side effects that you don't see as much with a mutt's hybrid vigor.

I was also a little surprised to see Nimrod Antal get a big mention in the "thanks" section. I shouldn't be, necessarily - as a guy with feet planted fairly firmly Hungary and Hollywood, I suspect that a lot of Hungarian filmmakers have been helped by him in some way. No, it's more the case that since Metallica: Through the Never didn't even interest me enough to shell out for a ticket even with him writing and directing, seeing his name made me wonder what had happened to him, as he made a number of films in Kontroll, Vacancy, and Armored that were better than expected. Apparently, he's directed an episode of M. Night Shyamalan's Wayward Pines, which makes that project a bit more interesting to me.

I must also sadly report that this is one of the chattier audiences I've sat in lately, as even at a boutique house, folks will take stretches without dialogue as permission to whisper a bit too loudly because, hey, it's not like you're blotting anything else or that silence is a thing the filmmaker decided to use, right? Still, it didn't come close to overshadowing what a great movie this is, and how everyone should go see it for a unique experience.

Fehér isten (White God)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 11 April 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, DCP)

I know a lot of people who love horror movies, and they tend to be the same people who care passionately about animal welfare. It's not that surprising; contrary to popular belief, you need empathy to get the most out of horror rather than become jaded, and I suspect that many genre filmmakers have something like White God kicking around their heads as a result. Actually making it is the trick, and most who try don't manage anything near what Kornél Mundruczó pulls off - a small masterpiece.

15-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is pretty fond of her dog, Hagen, a sweet mixed-breed that seems to be her best friend, especially now that she's being sent to stay with her father (Sándor Zsótér) while her mother visits Australia for three months. Unfortunately, Hagen is mixed-breed - a mutt - and in Hungary that requires a license that her father will not pay for, and Lili's father forces her to abandon Hagen on the side of the road. Lili will search, but while Hagen initially falls in with a friendly-seeming group of strays, but the other people he comes across won't treat him nearly as kindly as the girl still looking for him.

There are points when the audience might want to fast-forward through the sequences that focus on Lili; compared to the parts with the dogs, they can seem like just another movie about a bitter kid. Zsófia Psotta is pretty darn good in the role, though, and Sándor Zsótér's father may not always come across very well, but Mundruczó and his co-writers make their story interesting, more than just a parallel to how her mother seemingly abandons her much like the dogs,even if it often plays out behind the scenes. From the way Lili is clearly the youngest player in her youth orchestra, I suspect that she's been accelerated enough to become isolated, although there's never much talk of that or any need to show how her father starts to warm to her.

Full review on EFC.

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