Film Festival: Top Dog of the London Film Festival 2014

Fehér Isten

Every dog will have his day – and at the LFF 2014, they did. Several days. And very many dogs, as those who saw White God can confirm.

Top Dog by Alexa Dalby

But first, let’s consider the other, less upfront contenders for the Dog And Wolf Top Dog award – those plucky dogs who stuck it out alone as the solo canine in movies with a cast full of humans. The anonymous little terrier who appears out of the dark at the roadside in A Hard Day was a crucial witness to the running over of his owner by Detective Ko and reappeared again to stare accusingly at him when he returned to the scene. A manifestation (dogifestation?) of his conscience perhaps?

In The Keeping Room, a one-headed Cerberus of a dog is ready to savage any human in its path, a constant snarl dribbling out of its mangled lips. This huge black mastiff named Battle is the vicious companion of two rogue, murderous Union soldiers in the American Civil war, whose death (at the hands of shotgun-wielding Brit Marling) causes them more grief than that of any human. A mysterious dog encounters Danish engineer Captain Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) wandering in the Argentinian wilds and is the agent that takes him to a very shamanic space in the last section of Jauja, a canine conduit that links us to a beautiful ending.

Cute puppy Rocco in The Drop is a pit bull, a breed traditionally seen as dangerous. But he’s misunderstood, just like the human, Bob (Tom Hardy), who finds him and adopts him. “It’s a movie about a guy who’s never had interaction with another human being since a period his life, and a dog opens up his entire world and his heart,” Hardy says. The adorable puppy is an agent for change, it forces Hardy’s character to have a relationship with something. In fact, there were five dogs in the film, all at different stages of puppyhood, all perhaps jointly worthy of a junior award.

But, inevitably, back to White God and its exploitation of dogs as political metaphor. Its star was canine antihero, Hagen, a sturdy brown mixture of Labrador, Alsatian and Shar-Pei, with a noticeably perky tail. He leads a bounding army of street dogs, all 250 of which are worthy contenders for a Best Supporting Artist award, including a scene-stealing Jack Russell. As Variety commented, the film is “Not merely a story of interspecies hierarchy, White God also puts forward a simple but elegant metaphor for racial and class oppression”. And, told partly through dog’s-eye-view camerawork, we see Hagen and other discarded mongrels join forces to topple their tormentors in an anti-human, vengeful canine ensemble. Cast credits include a deserved mention for Hagen performers, Arizonan brothers Luke and Body.

In what might have been his acceptance speech of the DAW award, White God director Kornel Mundruczo says that working with the dogs proved to be a kind of therapy for everyone – “We all became dogs and they became human”. And that he was forced to forget his own power as a director – “Dogs cannot lie on camera, it’s very challenging,” he said. “The meaning is very simple. You can cooperate with another race.” After the production ended, he and his team instituted an adoption programme for the dogs and found all of them homes.

So Hagen it is, then. No newcomer to awards, he’s already the winner, along with the entire canine cast of White God, of the 2014 Palme Dog award. Now, still ears and paws above the rest, Hagen, star of White God, is the deserving winner of the Dog And Wolf jury’s inaugural Top Dog of the LFF Award. Congratulations and welcome to the Kennel of Fame, Hagen, from the would-be wags at Dog And Wolf.

And a special mention should go to an honorary dog – the expressive white cat in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

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