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White God

Exercising cruel superiority over dogs – or people – has consequences in this Hungarian film

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Like the mixed-breed dog that is its star, Kornel Mundruczo's film combines several genres — coming of age, crime, dog adventure and cultural allegory — into one heady work. Viewers will surely be captivated by the film's cold open: a girl bicycling through a deserted Budapest followed by a pack of dozens of charging dogs. (Mundruczo cast 274 shelter dogs, trained them and used no CGI for the pack scenes.)

Teenage Lilli and her pet dog, Hagen, must spend a month with her divorced dad, who is already angry and disconnected from his daughter. After refusing to pay a newly imposed tax on mixed-breed dogs, he dumps Hagen on the roadside. Abandoned, Hagen roams the streets, first meeting a friendly pack of similarly homeless mutts, before getting swept up in a brutal dog-fighting ring. (Sensitive viewers have been warned.)

Lilli's despair turns to anger and, not surprisingly, so does Hagen's, and both girl and dog lash out. The dog's actions recall the eco-terror films of the 1970s, when the natural world — with some justification — rose up against the "superior" humans controlling it. And while you can view Mundruczo's film as just an offbeat animal tale, its critique of institutions categorizing humans as "better" and "lesser" and treating them accordingly is explicit. As even recent events in this country have shown, such ingrained forms of cultural control often have unintended, and violent, consequences.

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