Political allegories are rarely as thrilling as White God, a film in which mixed-breed canines are stand-ins for oppressed peoples who rise up when irrevocably marginalized and mistreated by the system. The movie screened at New Directors/New Films, program jointly presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art.
At the center of White God, co-written and directed by Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó, is Hagen, a sympathetic and loyal rust-brown mongrel, whose Shar Pei-like furrows easily translate into a visage telegraphing concern and, later, vindictive cunning. Hagen belongs to Budapest teenager Lili (Zsófia Psotta), who’s left in the care of her father Daniel (Sandor Zsoter) when Mom takes on a professional assignment abroad.
Once a professor, Daniel works as a meat inspector who stamps “approved for consumption” on the beef that passes muster. An unpleasant man lacking warmth and empathy, he refuses to pay the tax the government now demands on dogs that are not pure-bred. By extension, then, Hagen is not on the “approved” list of Hungarian desirables, either.
It’s not lost on the viewer that the only calming agent that works on mongrel Hagen is the creature’s hearing Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody,” whose forlorn notes emanate from high school band-member Lily’s trumpet. In a perfect world, Hagen, who behaves like national, would have his own passport. However, the country inhabited by Lili and her father is like the archetypal Saturnine Senex – full of rules, hard edges and rigid boundaries – who never quite believes rebellion is imminent or unable to be subdued if it occurs.
Hagen, whose downward-spiraling trajectory to the proverbial Plutonic Underworld where he gathers up other penalized creatures, becomes the Uranian revolutionary. The notion that the rebels intent on toppling the system are canines who were once loving pets seems absurd. Then again, what staid, repressive government ever considers the plausibility of insurgency?
The nearly 300 real dogs that tear up the screen, in spectacularly choreographed four-legged mob scenes or eerily quiet set pieces, will take your breath away. Obviously, the mutts are not of the mind to let their own spirits be snuffed out without a fight or an encore of Liszt. As Mr. Tweedy tells the Missus in Chicken Run, “I told you they was organized.”
Archetype: Rebel. Revolutionary. Liberator. Humanitarian. Senex. Dictator. Law Maker.
Astrology Archetype: ♄ ♅ (Saturn, Uranus)