White God (2015) Review
A surprising number of people have blown smoke up this film’s ass, and that’s because it feels like it’s supposed to be important. From the austere cinematography and music to the austere acting to the austere canines—and with just the right amount of disarming humour peppered throughout—it’s easy to see that people have taken it too seriously because it takes itself too seriously. More seriously than it can back up.
The trailer promises us something groundbreaking: a realistic story of a dog, Hagen, crossing hell on Earth to get back to his owner, little Lili. No Michael J. Fox voice-overs. No antics. No gimmicks.
It lied. What we get instead is a half-cooked concept that somebody got too excited about to utilize to its fullest potential. Just observe the wonderful elements that aligned for these filmmakers. You have a universal story of divorced parents, a little girl caught in-between. You have a dog oozing with personality in a bleak, beautiful old European city. And you have a polemic regarding the mistreatment of both owned and stray dogs. Best of all, you have a chance to enter into the consciousness of the animal, to follow it, to watch it as it figures out how to solve problems and get out of sticky situations. Through the right lens, you could become one with the animal.
It starts out well enough along this track, although the disdain for, and mistreatment of, Hagen by EVERYONE except Lili is quite overstated. This is so we can see that Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is, along with Hagen, an emotional center of the film. But for every emotion she is supposed to convey, she steels herself to give us the most somber, blank stare she can muster. Her character is hardly developed, save for a strange club-thumping, vodka-swigging, too-soon journey through adolescence. “Oh no!” we are supposed to cry, “She is just as lost as that poor dog!” After all, this is the only way for us to make sense of the core relationship of the film, which is never otherwise developed.
The problem is that both dog and child too magically find their way out of their respective dark nights of the soul. Their resurrection is unearned. Hagen escapes a brutal lifestyle of dogfighting—one of the more difficult sections to watch, so I commend the filmmakers for its realism—by a freak accident. Lili does some bad things, wakes up with a hangover, then suddenly loves her father and decides not to misbehave any more. Lucky for her, here comes Hagen, amok mutts in tow, just in time for all the film’s themes to converge!
Then, strangely, it all devolves into a goddamn horror show of epic proportions, dogs growling in the dark and ripping out the throats of evil townspeople, the streets emptied in overdramatic post-apocalyptic fashion, wild roving SWAT teams swarming across the city firing at the mutts. What the hell is this? Should we be cheering on this violent revenge?
What got lost in this film wasn't the dog. It was the message. Between the unjustifiable title, the distended middle section (was 2 hours necessary?), the poor writing, the overly shaky camera (in every shot, really?), the uneven tone, and the oppressive self-importance, the beautiful acting of the dogs is completely overshadowed. If you want to see what this film was meant to be, all you have to do is watch its trailer. You’ll see all the best parts and you won’t waste your time or money.