This post will contain Spoilers.
Movie a Day Blog has been a sucker for great dog movies ever since OLD YELLER (1957) made me dissolve into tears as a seven-year-old, an embarrassing incident in the neighborhood theater.
WHITE GOD (2014, Netflix DVD) is a unique entry in a genre that stretches back to Rin-Tin-Tin, famously named the Dog Who Saved Hollywood because of his stellar boxoffice performance in the 1920s.
Many of us also grew up with the LASSIE movies and TV series, and there have been plenty of effective dog films since then, from BEETHOVEN (1992) and its two sequels, to Uggie the lovable Airedale from THE ARTIST (2011, Movie a Day 1/3/12).
WHITE GOD breaks the mold of all of these films. We start with a familiar premise, a Hungarian tweener, complete with a lovable pooch Hagen (played by two dogs from Arizona who were about to be dumped at a shelter), and a mean stepfather who makes her ditch in the dog in the middle of industrial Budapest.
At that point director Kornel Mundrucz0 begins to have fun, running two simultaneous narratives, one following Hagen on his journey back to his master, and the other joining the efforts of young Lili (a terrific Zsofia Psotta) to find him, or at least know whether he’s dead or alive.
The most publicized aspect of WHITE GOD was the use of 247 dogs to take to the streets of Budapest in droves, in a scene reminiscent of the opening sequence in the Israeli animated film WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008).
All the dogs employed in WHITE GOD were actual strays gathered from shelters and animal rescue groups, and the filmmakers claim that none were harmed, and all placed with new homes following the filming.
It reportedly took two years of training to get the dogs to perform as portrayed, which is startlingly realistic, given GoPro cameras and other dog-POV cinematography. Sharp, tight editing also helps, and gives the filmmaker the ability to get the dogs to go the direction he wants them to, for instance.
You can see the care taken in the major dogfight sequence, since that’s the inevitable plot development in this kind of story, to avoid real biting.I’m sure the Humane Society isn’t crazy about this kind of movie, but this seems responsibly and sensibly done.
There are plenty of evil characters to hate along the way, including the depressed Dad (his conversion to loving, supportive father is the most unrealistic aspect of WHITE GOD), and it’s wonderful to see them get their comeuppance from an unexpected source. .
Hagen is turned into Hater, and he goes from dog fighting to exacting his revenge on every single human who did him wrong. Melodrama pops up most prominently in the final scenes, but then again, how else do you end a movie where your pup has turned into a killer?
This has to be the first Doggie Vigilante movie ever made, and Hagen turns into a kind of canine Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH (1974). It is with great difficulty that I refrain from the inevitable puns on this concept.
Let’s just say it’s a dog’s life, and in this case, a very interesting one.