White God ****
Dir: Kornél Mundruczó. Starring: Zsófia Psotta, Zsótér Sándor, Lili Horváth. 15 cert, 121 min
White God, a remarkable thriller from Hungarian writer-director Kornél Mundruczó, arrives as a shining example of how exposure to genre movies can imbue a filmmaker’s work with a new immediacy. Where Mundruczó’s previous mood pieces – 2002’s ironically titled Pleasant Days, 2008’s rape-reliant Delta – laboured through their various humiliations, his latest opens in the jolting manner of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later…. 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is traversing an apparently abandoned Budapest on her bike. Suddenly, a pack of murderous canines tear out of a sidestreet and begin closing on her. Welcome, everybody, to the Dogpocalypse.
Immediately, we’re gripped, yet it’s in explaining how man’s best friend turned on us that this fable accrues its meaning. We’re initially following Lili’s quest to retrieve Hagen, the beloved pet cast out at the roadside by her indifferent father. That Hagen is identified as mixed-breed suggests Mundruczó may have migration on his mind, yet rarely do we feel lectured. If Hagen’s backstreet progress recalls Bresson’s sainted arthouse classic Au Hasard, Balthasar, where a donkey served as humanity’s whipping boy, Mundruczó’s staging owes more to Jason Bourne, notably in an electrifying setpiece that finds Hagen pursued by animal control operatives.
Hagen’s passage from dumb mutt to snarling revolutionary provides the true throughline, yet Lili’s plight – removed of her dog, her beau, even her bike – is just as affecting, and it’s that empathy that makes the difference: for the first time in Mundruczó’s filmography, we feel his characters’ hurt, rather than merely witnessing it. The result, a social conscience movie with real cinematic bite, positions the viewer like a dog between two masters: Mundruczó challenges us to pick a side, get involved, care – and hopes we carry that compassion back out into a world that, for man and beast alike, remains frequently barking, and often plain rough.
White God opens in selected cinemas from today.