Thursday, March 12, 2015

White God (orig. Fehér Isten) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  The Guardian (4/5 Stars)  Irish Times (4/5 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing
HMDb listing* listing*

Irish Times (D. Clarke) review (P. Bradshaw) review
The Hollywood Reporter (S. Dalton) review
Variety (G. Lodge) review

White God (orig. Fehér Isten) [2014] [IMDb] [CEu] [HMDb]* []* (directed and cowritten by  Kornél Mundruczó [IMDb] [CEu] [HMDb]* [] along with Viktória Petrányi [IMDb] [CEu] [HMDb]* [] and Kata Wéber [IMDb] [CEu] [HMDb]* []) Cannes' 2014 Un Certain Regard award winning film from Hungary is certainly one of the most compelling if also disturbing films I've seen since beginning my blog four years ago.  Yes, like the 1960s era The Planet of the Apes films, the movie is an obvious parable about anti-Semitism / racism (of all kinds of stripes) that has plagued Central Europe for ages, BUT ... the targets of abuse in this film are ... DOGS, yes OFTEN CUTE AS CAN BE DOGS, but DOGS nonetheless.  And THAT will disturb a lot of people watching this film (as if a film series about "the rise of the APES" would somehow be less disturbing...).

Seriously I GET THE FILM.  I think it's certainly well intentioned and at times FUN (the screening as part of the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center WAS PACKED WITH SMILING FROM EAR-TO-EAR mostly ART STUDENTS from the nearby Art Institute of Chicago of which the GSFC is part) ... BUT, BUT, BUT, BUT ... do I really want to entertain employing DOGS (as CUTE, CUTE, CUTE as they can be AT TIMES) TO SYMBOLIZE the TARGETS OF RACISM???  Dogs as a symbol are ... well, rather POLYVALENT.  Sigh ...

So how does this compelling if fairly disturbing film then play out?

Thirteen year old Lili (played by Zsófia Psotta [IMDb] [CEu] [HMDb]* []), a child of divorce, is shunted-over by her mother to her father for the summer while she flies with her new beau to Australia on some several month long academic assignment over there.  Besides her backpack, Lili is transferred over to her father with two items of import -- her cute as can be Labrador Retriever mutt named Hagan and her trumpet.  Both play key roles in the film.

Her father appears in favor of her having taken-on a musical interest (she appears part of a student orchestra, so it gives her "something to do during the summer...").  However, her dog, Hagan, proves to be a bigger problem:

First, it seems that her father doesn't particularly like dogs to begin with.  Then, he lives in an apartment building where dogs aren't supposed to be present.  Finally, he goes through the roof when it appears that his EX-WIFE apparently hasn't paid-up the license fee for the dog.  Apparently dog license fees in Budapest are quite high and almost nobody chooses to pay them UNLESS they have a "pure bread" and ... Hagan's a mutt.  Further, he's a mutt THAT HIS EX "bought" for his daughter and THERE WAS NO WAY THAT HE WAS GOING TO PAY THE RATHER EXPENSIVE LICENSE FEE FOR A DOG THAT "REALLY WAS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF HIS EX-WIFE" ... THE ONE WHO'S NOW WITH HER "NEW GUY" ... SOMEWHERE OUT IN AUSTRALIA (!).

But there's his thirteen year old daughter Lili in his apartment with her "illegal dog" and his EX was _literally 10,000 miles away_ and, inevitably, a "nosey neighbor" _chooses_ to be "unhappy" about the presence of the dog.

What to do?  After a few days of harboring a dog that the other residents don't seem to want around, who at that moment ENCAPSULATED EVERYTHING that had infuriated him about his ex-wife, daughter or no daughter, he decides to _ditch the dog_, basically parking his car at a park (far away) one morning and leaving Hagan there.

This of course is quite upsetting to Lily, his thirteen year old, BUT he saw no other reasonable solution.  He didn't like the dog, the dog was even LESS LIKED by his dog-averse neighbors, and the DOG, Hagan, represented EVERYTHING THAT HE FOUND ANNOYING ABOUT HIS EX-WIFE, who arguably DUMPED him along with Lily at his doorstep while she flew-off with her new boyfriend to Australia!  Argh!

Well, that may be how Lily's father thought of Hagan, Lily's dog, but Hagan then had a life of his own ... and that's then the rest of the film ...

Dumped then in some Budapest park far from ANY familiar surroundings, and certainly far from Lily, Hagan eventually gives up trying to find his past owner (even as she keeps looking for him).  Eventually he runs into other stray dogs ... and eventually he and the other stray dogs get into trouble with local, Budapest, "Animal control" who attempt to round-up the dogs.

Hagan escapes the initial round-up by "Animal Control," but is then _sold_ by a local homeless person to some lowlife running a "dog fighting ring."  Poor Hagan ESCAPES that sadist only to be caught then for real by "Animal Control."  Yet, just before being Euthanized, he uses his acquired dog-fighting skills to make a quick break out of the dog pound, AND ... helps about a hundred other dogs flee pound as well.

SO ... "Dogs of Budapest UNITE, you have nothing to lose but your ... LEASHES ;-)"  Soon Hagan is at the forefront of a Budapest-wide dog rebellion ;-) and pretty much ALL those who would have mistreated those poor mutts ... start getting their due.

But what of 13-year-old Lily?  At the beginning of the summer ALL THAT SHE "REALLY HAD" was her dog Hagan (who was taken from her) ... and her trumpet.   Well, of course, she has to play a key role now ... ;-)

Again, a it's pretty cool film ... it's just a fair number of the scenes in the film will be unsettling / disturbing to a fair number of viewers.  And what is the film really about?  Is it "just about dogs?"  Or is it about a lot more than that?  And if it is about "more than just dogs" ... How comfortable are you really, that the film makers _chose_ to make _dogs_ even OFTEN CUTE DOGS represent THE TARGETS OF OPPRESSION AMONG US.

Again, this is one COMPELLING / THOUGHT-PROVOKING if also DISTURBING film!

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