The infamous stray dogs of Bucharest, Romania, numbered 60,000 in September 2013, the same month a pack stormed a playground and tore apart a four-year-old boy. Since then, a new euthanasia law has harshly halved their ranks.
Neighboring Budapest, Hungary, doesn’t have that problem — or final solution — but local writer/director Kornél Mundruczó’s White God imagines what if it did. His Cannes-winning doggie dystopia is a slow-burning, brutal watch where every grown-up is channeling Cruella de Vil. The star, a sweet ginger mutt named Hagen, has an expressive face and a knack for trouble.
Dumped by his young guardian Lili’s (Zsófia Psotta) estranged father (Sándor Zsótér) and hunted by the pound, he’s captured and sold to a dog fighter who sharpens his own teeth and trains the animal to kill — excellent prep for leading a throat-ripping canine rebellion. Both Hagen and Lili loathe oppressive adults who control where they go and how they behave. To American audiences, their youthful dissent is punk rock. To Hungarians who not that long ago endured authoritarianism and World War II, this parable about mongrel blood has more bite.
The humans are out-acted by the dogs, who are emotionally compelling even when quietly watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon while waiting to be put down. At the climax, 250 pups storm the streets in a shot that recalls the rebooted Planet of the Apes. Amazingly, there’s no CG. When the violence gets unbearable, take comfort in the troop of trainers on the sidelines who prove that, for now, man and beast still make a good team.