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White God review

Dogs and monsters.

Dogs and monsters.

Dumped at her father’s while mum visits Australia, 13-year-old Lili’s (Zsófia Psotta) life goes from bad to worse when pa ditches her trusty crossbreed mutt, Hagen, by the side of a motorway. With furrowed brow and curled-down tail, Hagen skulks between assorted mean-spirited lowlifes before a gambler trains (read: abuses) him into being a vicious fight dog. Lili, meanwhile, undergoes her own bumpy journey, rebelling against her father and scanning Budapest’s mean streets for her loyal pal…

Hungarian writer/director Kornél Mundruczó’s peculiar splice of exciting adventure tale and brutal social realism won’t be for everyone, with hard-to-watch scenes of Hagen being beaten and having his teeth filed to points shuffled among jaunty dog’s-eye-view chases and breezy plot contrivances. A mythic finale involving 280 canines of all shapes and sizes throwing off their shackles and raising their hackles to bound through Budapest in search of revenge will prove especially divisive.

Beyond debate, though, is the technical merit of Mundruczó’s sixth feature (the editing is as coiled as the coat of an Irish Water Spaniel), or the calibre of the performances. Psotta’s, yes, but it’s the guy playing Hagen who owns the film. Or make that guys, for two magnificent mongrels, Luke and Body, give heart and soul under the tutelage of trainer Teresa Ann Miller, and they’re ably supported by the rest in show during some impressively choreographed set-pieces.

As for that strange title (given Hagen is brown)… Well, it’s probably a nod to Sam Fuller’s contentious 1982 drama White Dog, in which a trainer attempts to rehabilitate a German Shepherd that’s been conditioned to attack black people. Like Fuller’s film, White God possesses a potent message, with the pooches representing all those who have been oppressed as they rise up to overthrow their hateful ‘masters’.

VERDICT: Who let the dogs out? This is Homeward Bound: The Incredibly Harrowing Journey, with the feelgood payoff arriving after many feel-shit sequences. Well worth it, though.

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