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White God has more bite than all the cats of The Lion King

As the digital age begins to phase out physical animal performances, this stunning Hungarian allegory shows what still can be still achieved with the real thing

The recent trailer for the new ‘live-action’ of The Lion King is impressive. But with the digital animals in Jon Favreau’s upcoming film looking okay, it still remains to be seen if there will ever be an animal crafted on a computer which looks unequivocally real. Watching even a frame or two of Kornél Mundruczó strikingly original 2014 Hungarian parable White God, and it’s hard to believe machine will ever better beast.

Hagen and his estranged owner Lili (played by Zsófia Psotta)

What starts off as dark reimagining of the wholesome sixties Disney flick The Incredible Journey, later settles into a much more chilling and unpredictable fable, complete with a moving coming-of-age tale subtly interwoven throughout.

A fearsome Hagan after he’s been exploited by an dog fight trainer

When a teenager (Zsófia Psotta) is unceremoniously dumped by her mother on her divorced scientist father (Sándor Zsótér), it’s clear he isn’t happy with his daughter’s faithful hound Hagen. Cast out into the street after a heated argument between father and daughter, Hagen is alone in the drab confines of inner-city Budapest with little chance of being reconciled with his distraught owner. Thus begins a dangerous adventure before Hagen finally rallies the nearby roaming dog population, his efforts leading to a hostile uprising. Mundruczó uses a series of POV shots to humanise Hagen’s plight, and this is none more chilling when he’s captured and gradually has his spirit broken until he’s forced to kill by a ruthless dog fight trainer.

The film’s director Kornél Mundruczó and one of his star mutts sharing a kiss at Cannes

The film’s cannine actor is actually played by two brothers named Bodie and Luke and they are somewhat of a revelation as far as animal performers go. It’s a wholly believable trajectory for the mutt as he goes from domesticated, if unruly, house pet, to a fearsome, fully-fledged killing machine. A scene which sees Hagen reacting to the gravity of the situation when he takes down his fellow pooch is incredibly powerful and is indicative of a filmmaker who has a firm and expert grasp of the material. The incredible choreographed scenes of canine carnage are a surreal, nightmarish scenario, offering the kind of visceral jolt not dissimilar to the monkey melee towards the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but with added bite. Some of this has been undoubtedly achieved with a little post-production digital tinkering, but what White God illustrates beautifully is that emotional investment from an audience for a four-legged character can be accomplished at an organic level.

Watch White God on CHILI

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