“White God,” winner of Un Certain Regard at Cannes Film Festival 2014, was recently screened during the International Showcase at the 4th Edition of the International Film Festival of Panama, (IFF Panama), Central America 2015. The festival ran from April 9 to April 15.
“White God” is a deep, thought provoking film which considers today’s environment on many parallels, told from the point of view of a dog named Hagen. Dogs are classified as either a superior breed or a disgraced one making it easier to judge their purpose and fate. Outcast and betrayed, the newly lower classified animals rebel against their former masters. A seemingly harmless measure that aims to make dog-breeding more disciplined and controlled results in some unexpected consequences and events.
Favoring pedigree dogs, the new regulation puts a severe tax on mixed breeds, and those that do not fit the “norm or set standard” are rounded up and placed in shelters. Hagen’s owner, a 13-year-old girl named Lili (Zsófia Psotta), fights desperately to protect her pet. In her eyes, it seems senseless and cruel, and she refuses to accept her father’s arguments to get rid of the dog. Emotions escalate and her father eventually sets Hagen free on the streets. Heartbroken and devastated, Lili hates her father for making her betray her furry friend. Still innocently believing that love can win over any difficulty, she sets out to find her dog and save him. Hagen, too, searches desperately to return home to Lili. Struggling to survive, Hagen soon realizes that not everyone is a dog’s best friend. Wandering the streets, the former pet falls into a series of dangerous situations…
After a few weeks both Lili and Hagen realize a reunion is no longer an option. Lili struggles to concentrate on preparing for her orchestra’s annual concert and enjoy life as a teenager. Meanwhile, Hagen, through negative occurrences and situations sees the future as bleak. He is captured and placed in a pound and rounds up the other dogs; they escape and all decide to revolt without mercy against mankind, who in their minds has done them a grave injustice of discrimination and mistreatment.
Lili however is the only person who is able to stop the war between man and dog, and tries to find Hagen–with an unexpected standoff between the dog and his former owner, as Hagen now views Lili as the ‘enemy.’ Shocked, and in the only way she knows how to bring peace to a chaotic situation, Lili plays music to remind Hagen that life was once beautiful, with a fantastic, breathtakingly paced and produced closing sequence to the film, which represents not only cinematographic beauty but an underlying message about life itself, in all its simplicity and intricacies.
“Only if we are able to position ourselves in the place of different species do we have the chance to lay down our arms.”
“White God” was directed by Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczó. “Pleasant Days,” his first feature film, was awarded the Silver Leopard in Locarno in 2002. His second feature film, “Johanna” – a filmic opera adaptation of the story of Joan of Arc – was presented in Cannes Un Certain Regard in 2005. “Delta” was In Competition at Cannes 2008 and was awarded the FIPRESCI prize. In 2010, “Tender Son – The Frankenstein Project” was presented at the Cannes Competition.
“White God” was inspired mostly by the ever-changing and charged social relations of the world today. In the director’s view, parallel to the questionable advantages of globalization, a caste system has become more sharply defined; superiority has truly become the privilege of the white race. Mundruczó set out to create a film that reflects societal norms and somewhat limited freedoms associated with this subject in the “black and white” form or what is considered to be “right or wrong,” from a political, humane, or even inhumane point of view.
Hagen, considered to be “man’s best friend,” is betrayed and becomes an outcast within his society and literally turned vigilante to revolt with the other dejected dogs against their former masters and companions in order to validate their existence, as equals in an ever changing world, defying rules and regulations.
Throughout the film we are left wondering whether the director considered it to be a main aim of his whether Hagen and Lili will be reunited despite the ever growing conflicting circumstances or just a backdrop for his own political and societal statements. Or is all for the growth of the characters: For Hagen to fight back; for Lili to understand that Hagen’s rebellion is just, and that in life we have the choice not to become by way of today’s society, deceitful and false adults.
The film was named “White God,” because the dog is perceived as the symbol of the eternal outcast and whose master is his god. While criticizing a past and future Hungary, and considering Europe in its wider form.
“The film is much more a criticism of a once and future Hungary,” Mundruczó said, “where typically a narrow stratum rules over a greater mass. This is becoming increasingly true for Europe as well. A cluster of the elite reserves its right to power while, as if in a political reality show, politicians are stars that we vote on and off. These are very dangerous tendencies. If we don’t pay attention, one day the masses will rise up.”
Working with the dogs for the film was a therapeutic experience, and the cast and crew had to adjust to the dogs rather than the other way round, and demonstrated cooperation between man and dog. The canine actors in the film were also from shelters and after shooting had been completed, all the dogs were adopted and new homes were found for them.
Preparing the cast to work with the dogs was a different experience for the cast and the director realised that their roles and personas were interchangeable –
“In a sense, the dogs became actor and the actors became dogs,” Mundruczó said.
IMDb page – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2844798/
IFF Panama Festival Internacional de Cine 2015