Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
Artists have used animals to comment on the human condition since Homer. There’s often something to be gained in recognizing that animals experience the world through alien eyes — that their existence isn’t necessarily contingent on the exigencies of culture, civilization, etc. Perhaps that realization is part of what makes us human. In “White God,” Hungarian writer-director Kornél Mundruczó uses animals not to comment on our experience but to indict it. It’s an almost anti-human film, one that owes as much to the exploitation-bred revenge fantasies of Quentin Tarantino as to the frontier yarns of Jack London.
Narratively, Mundruczó borrows the strategy of the recent “Planet of the Apes” reboot: He encourages us to identify with his dogs, then marinates us in their suffering. All of that suffering is caused by humans, each one portrayed by an actor who seems chosen for his ability to fill out a dastardly outline. By the movie’s final third you’re primed for bloodletting. There’s no suspense or prurient horror-movie kick to the inevitable dog-on-human violence; it’s grim, hard-edged stuff. And I fear you’re supposed to experience satisfaction, or perhaps even a vicarious thrill, as you watch the wrongdoers get their comeuppance. It’s become common for movies to revel in the persecution of ideological malefactors. The victims in “White God” are stand-ins for nationalists: it’s made clear they favor Hungarian purebreds. Am I the only one who finds this trend off-putting?
The best moments in the movie are those in which the dogs are shown roaming the streets, doing dog things, and seeming to act according to a script and direction. Here Mundruczó reveals a psychological sensitivity that compliments his grasp of tone and detail. You can feel him inside the animals’ heads, the way Carroll Ballard is in his best movies, and George Miller was (in a very different way) in his great “Babe: Pig in the City.” It’s a pity that sensitivity doesn’t extend to his human subjects. There’s a complimentary story in “White God,” concerning a little girl and her estrangement from her father and pooch, but it lacks resonance, and it’s overpowered by the revenge material. It has a nice capper, though: A mystical scene in which the girl soothes the wild beasts. It wouldn’t be out of place in one of the Grimms’ fables.