Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Starring: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, and Lili Horváth
Running Time: 121 min
I love animals but I'm not a big fan of animal movies, unless they are mutated, on some sort of rampage destroying towns or in the future controlling mankind to bend to their ape whim. However, this film has been nominated for a number of festival awards and have won two awards at Cannes (2014), so I will roll over and see what everybody is barking about.
Thirteen year old, Lili, has to live with her estranged father, Daniel, because her mother is moving to Australia to work. When Daniel comes to pick her up, he is pissed that the mother didn't tell him that Lili has a big dog named Hagen and that he will be living with them too. Daniel makes it clear to Lili that he is not happy about having to take in the dog and he suggests to Lili that since it's a mutt, they should just get rid of it but Lili loves her dog and will not abandon him for any reason.
When they get back to Daniel's apartment, one of the nosy neighbors reminds him that all mutts need to be reported and that she will call animal control if he doesn't. Daniel tells her that he knows that and he will do it tomorrow and ushers his new guests into his apartment. Daniel cooks up some supper for him and Lili but gets frustrated with her for feeding Hagen under the table people food and they argue with the end result of Daniel sending her to bed. She goes to bed but when Daniel comes to check on her, he gets mad that the dog is also in the bedroom and forces Hagen into the bathroom to sleep. Later on, Lili sneaks off to sleep in the bathroom with Hagen.
The next morning, Lili is afraid that her father will get rid of Hagen, so she bikes with Hagen to her concert band rehearsal and puts Hagen in the closet of the studio to wait for her. Unfortunately, Hagen gets breaks out of the closet and interrupts the entire rehearsal, frustrating the pompous conductor. Lili tries to chase after Hagen but is stopped by her conductor and told that if she goes after that dog then she is shouldn't come back. Lili then chases after her best friend. Things get worse for the dognamic duo, when after hours of walking Lili and Hagen are finally found by Daniel, who has been searching for them all afternoon. He picks them up and he is angry, he drives to a remote location and unleashes Hagen. Upset but unable to save Hagen, Lili cries and screams at her father as they drive away with Hagen chasing after them until he is out of breath.
The next day, Lili is forced to apologize to the conductor and she is accepted back into the concert band. After rehearsal though, Lili starts searching for her best friend and putting up posters to bring him back home. Meanwhile, Hagen is on quite an adventure as well. He finds that the world without Lili is a very hard and cold one for stray dogs and with the help of a new dog friend, Hagen escapes a number of terrifying encounters with a angry butcher and the animal control people. Can Lili ever find her best friend again or has she lost the only real connect that she loves?
I was really surprised at how enjoyable this film was and how many very dark scenes there are in this. Director Kornél Mundruczó (Tender Son, Delta) not only creates an interesting story about the bond between people and their dogs but he pulls no punches on a ferocious look at the life of a street dog. There are some extremely difficult scenes to watch after Hagen, the dog is caught and sold to a dogfight trainer. Many of these scenes remind me of Sam Fuller's "White Dog", as Hagan is brutally poked, prodded, and turned from a peaceful creature into a snarling killing machine. This is not a Lassie film unless the Lassie was going to eat Timmy in the well.
The animal cruelty does come to a head when Hagen, like Caesar from the "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes", frees his canine brother and sisterin and they wreak havoc in a murderous rage through the streets. I was pleasantly surprised by this turn of events. The film then, kind of turns into a revenge film and Hagen and his gang try to vanquish those who have wronged him. Again, I was totally caught off guard by the brutally and the viciousness that Mundruczó allows to come across on screen.
Also, I was most amazed at how well Mundruczó was able to capture so much passion from these dogs, it was really quite amazing. There are moments in the film, when these animals are offering up more honest emotion and feeling than some of the highest paid Hollywood actors. On top of that, there were scenes that looked like they came straight out of some action movies and it was really impressive how Mundruczó, his crew and the dog handlers were able to achieve these shots.
There are some things that I didn't quite get from the film. Lili is thirteen and the concert band that she plays in consists of adults or at least young adults. I found that weird and creepy at times, especially when she is invited to a bar with some of the younger ones. I don't know why someone so young is working with these adults, it didn't make sense to me. Also, I found the relationship between Lili and her dad a little awkward as well. I don't know if Mundruczó was trying to mirror the abuse that was going on with Hagen with Lili's relationship with her dad because it never really comes to the forefront and things never do get resolved with that issue. Maybe there wasn't anything at all, but her dad is weird in this film and made me feel uncomfortable for her.
Also the third act, although I love the concept of what is happening with the revenge and the roofavolution, it does go off the rails a bit. There are actions that happen, that are time sequentially impossible and some things just don't ring true. I understand where Mundruczó was going with it but it might be a little to arthouse for some film goers.
However, this a fantastic movie and I can't get over how vicious it gets. There is a solid story here, that may reflect the adage that violence begats violence, as well as some excellent acting here by both human and animal talent and most surprising, there is a very cool revenge twist too. So if you're looking for a good foreign film that will prove that the cinema hasn't gone to the dogs, grab this and you'll be pawing the remote for more.