White God

“The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs,” Charles de Gaulle is said to have said, and here’s a movie to illustrate and belabor the point. A sort of Euro-miserablist cross between The Birds and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but with dogs, Kornél Mundruczó’s White God shows us modern Hungary as a joyless society defined — and done in — by zero tolerance of mongrels. The film itself is anything but a purebred, genre-wise, and that’s fine; more a problem is that allegory alone can’t quite sustain it. The opening is impressive, with a girl on a bike in an otherwise empty city street, pursued or perhaps attended by a frantic pack of strays. Later we see this as a consequence of her father (Sándor Zsótér), who works in a slaughterhouse, deciding to separate the girl (Zsófia Psotta) from her own cherished mutt. Shooting with handheld naturalism, and with real rescue dogs, Mundruczó works hard to establish the realistically cruel circumstances that could warrant a canine uprising. But it still reads as a stylized conceit, undercut by too many little moments when performances, from human and canine alike, don’t truthfully express what the movie says they do. Would Mundruczó allow that so much unleashed energy might actually have worked better in a comedy? Though commendably anti-sentimental, White God is a movie for dog-lovers sort of in the way Whiplash was a movie for jazz-lovers: so serious that it seems to have forgotten the actual love.