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Huge pack of stray dogs in Hungarian film wows Cannes

By Will Russell

CANNES France (Reuters) - Anyone with a fear of dogs is not going to get over it by seeing the Hungarian movie "Feher Isten" (White God) which has made a stir at the Cannes film festival with a scene that is all the more remarkable because it is filmed with real animals.

The film opens with a young girl, carrying a trumpet in a backpack, cycling through the deserted streets of the Hungarian capital Budapest in broad daylight.

It suddenly turns terrifying as a huge pack of some 200 or more vicious, barking dogs, all of them real, none of them created by computer simulation, bounds around a corner and heads straight for the young rider.

In the background the frame shows a crashed bus and cars abandoned by drivers fleeing the strays terrorizing the city.

Telling more would be a spoiler but Teresa Ann Williams, the Hollywood dog trainer who prepared the animals along with Hungarian trainer Arpad Halasz, said she had never done or seen anything like it before.

"You know it's unheard of to think of doing 200, 250 dogs running together through the city of Budapest," she told Reuters in an interview in conjunction with the premiere.

The screening at the film festival, and reviews afterwards by critics who said they were bowled over by how the dogs were used in the film, are a huge shot of adrenaline for Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo, who spent years on the project.

He said that much as he likes computer-generated images that have been used, for example, to create the tiger in "Life of Pi" and other films, that would not have worked for his tale about the girl's search for her lost dog Hagen, which her father has forced her to abandon on a highway because it is a mutt.

DOGS ADOPTED

Computer-generated images are "illustrating somehow what we humans think about animals' emotions and it's much more about us", Mundruczo, who works in television and film, said.

A professional animal plays the role of Hagen, but most of the dogs which form a pack of strays that ends up terrorizing the city, were rescued from a pound.

Filming them was like working with four- or five-year-old child actors, but he got what he wanted, Mundruczo said.

"There are really harsh and heavy scenes which were simulated by playing," he said, speaking of how the dogs were prepared for filming.

The film, which shows the abandoned Hagen joining the strays and becoming their leader, includes scenes in which the cross-breed dogs are hounded by dogcatchers and ignored, abused and exploited by humans.

There is a theme running through the film of mistreatment of "the underdog", which in Mundruczo's way of seeing things could be poor people in Hungary, or anywhere in Europe.

"It's a hard criticism of Europe in my eyes because through this melodrama, or through this story of how a little girl tried to find her dog, you understand a metaphor of all minorities, of all poor people," he said.

The film's strays, however, have gone on to happier hunting grounds than the muddy building sites and abandoned buildings where they are shown living in the film.

Mundruczo said that when word spread after filming that the dogs were available for adoption "we found families for them".

People were delighted, he said, to find "they can adopt film star dogs".

(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Alison Williams)

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