Kornél Mundruczó’s White God begins with a quote about the importance of loving those you least want to, a theme that returns throughout the film. It is a story of a girl’s love for her dog, and the dog’s devotion to his owner; a father’s love for his daughter, and a daughter’s love for her father. Most importantly, it’s about holding on to that good feeling even when you’d rather have nothing to do with each other.
When Hagen is abandoned on the street after Lili’s father refuses to pay the fee required to register a mixed breed, the film follows his quest to return to Lili. More importantly, it follows his quest to wreak revenge on those who have wronged him as he struggles to maintain his innocence as a mutt on the street. Every once in a while, we return to Lili as she searches for Hagen and tries to navigate the gauntlet that comes with being a teenager in a new city with a father she barely knows and doesn’t get along with. The film is a pastiche of different genres; part revenge flick meets Oliver Twist and part coming-of-age slasher film, director Mundruczó does a pretty good job of balancing the competing elements. Where the film falters is in its balance of the various characters.
Overall the film is more concerned with the journey of Hagen than that of Lili, and while the dog wrangling of the film is by far its most impressive aspect, there is something lost with the central figure of the film not being human. Due to animal cruelty laws and the fact that dogs can only act to a certain point, the disturbing subject matter loses a layer of realism when Hagen dominants the screen that is at odds with the moments dominated by Lili. These small moments of Lili slowly finding her place with her father after she no longer has Hagen as a safety net are the ones that truly resonate. With more balance between the parallel stories, White God might have been more successful.
With all that said, the film’s climax is a spectacular piece of filmmaking as paths cross again in a beautiful cinematic moment of contemplation and a quiet celebration of the ties that bind. It’s the perfect ending to a film that struggles to balance the sensational with the mundane.