Magazine article Artforum International

God Bites Dog: Amy Taubin on Kornel Mundruczo's White God

Magazine article Artforum International

God Bites Dog: Amy Taubin on Kornel Mundruczo's White God

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH I WOULD NOT be the person I am today had I not seen Bambi as a child, I do not recommend taking kids to White God, which is similarly tender, harrowing, heartbreaking---and violent. And although the central characters of Kornel Mundruczo's mongrelized movie are an adolescent girl and an animal who are bonded to each other, the film is nothing like Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar (1966), which is both the greatest and the most unbearable movie ever made. In fact, White God made me despise the masochism and passivity of Balthazar's human protagonist (Anne Wiazemsky). The girl can't help it, indeed.

Part allegory--the myths of Spartacus (come to free the slaves) and Orpheus (who transfixed all living things with his lyre) refigured in contemporary Hungary--and part coming-of-age drama (albeit one that mutates into a dreamlike fantasy of revenge and reconciliation), the movie is remarkable for existing coherently on so many cinematic planes at once and for generating multiple metaphoric readings, all of them about power and a state-determined caste system in which the "fit" reassure themselves of their superiority by brutalizing and murdering the "unfit." Given the recent electoral victories of Hungary's neo-Nazi party, Mundruczo might well have dramatized the conflict between Magyar insiders and immigrant outcasts. Instead, the outcasts here are nonpurebred dogs--and, as it happens, a few years back the right wing in Parliament proposed a tax on anyone who keeps a mutt in their home, effectively condemning these dogs to abandonment or euthanasia. From a dog's point of view, and in point of fact, humans have the power to bestow life or death. Hence they are, collectively, the White God of the title. (While I don't rule out a play on the title of Samuel Fuller's White Dog [1982], which is also about racism, I doubt that Fuller was much on Mundruczo's mind.)

White God crosscuts between the divergent paths taken by thirteen-year-old Lili (Zsofia Psotta) and Hagen, the dog who has been her closest companion, after Lili's father, Daniel (Sandor Zsoter), tosses Hagen out of his car and speeds away with Lili trapped inside. Lili's parents have undergone a bitter divorce, and Daniel takes out his anger on Lili and her adopted stray by refusing to pay the pet tax. Lili searches tirelessly for Hagen, a lively Labrador/shar-pei mix with intelligent eyes, even after she pretends to her father and her authoritarian music teacher--she is a gloriously lyrical trumpet player--that she doesn't care about the mutt anymore. …

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