Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘The Hunt’ is a gripping Danish drama. Like Arthur Miller’s classic ‘The Crucible,’ that revolves around the Salem witch trials, ‘The Hunt’ deals with a terrifying examination of a man falsely accused. The residents of a tightly-knit Danish village believe they have found evil among them in the form of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen). He’s a divorced kindergarten teacher who finds himself the focus of what can only be described as a witch hunt. It’s not pleasant subject matter but it is such a moving piece of acting from Mikkelsen, it is a must-see film. He earned the Best Actor award for it at the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival.
As the story begins, Lucas’ life is getting back on track after a bitter divorce. His teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom) plans to move in with him and he begins dating Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) who works in the school’s lunch room. He is well-liked and respected in the community. It’s one of those small towns where everyone knows each other. As a teacher, Lucas is good with the kids and gets along with his peers. Until Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), a little girl with a vivid imagination, impulsively kisses Lucas on the lips. Dismayed, Lucas rebukes her. When she gives him a valentine, he politely suggests she give it to her parents or one of the little boys in her classroom. Feeling slighted, Klara intimates to head teacher Grethe (Susse Wold) that Lucas exposed himself to her. Grethe takes it seriously and keeps saying, “The children don’t lie.” As the story grows and spreads, hysteria takes over the town like a cancer.
That’s the heart of the story. It’s a fascinating look at how a child’s accusation moves from suspicion to a presumption of guilt. The irony is that the audience knows Lucas is innocent but the town doesn’t. He essentially becomes a pariah in the community. Vinterberg masterfully escalates the tension as the town’s suspicions grow and the fear builds upon itself. They treat him like a monster. What makes matters even more distressing is that Klara is the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). They grew up together and are hunting buddies. Hunting is a powerful theme throughout the film. This decent civilized man is ostracized and treated like an uncivilized beast.
What’s shocking is when the girl admits he did nothing to her; it’s too late for Lucas. There is no vindication for him. The town clings so strongly to the rumors that the nightmare never ends for him. The story is set during the months leading up to Christmas. The contrast between the town’s hatred and the atmosphere of good cheer at Christmastime is chilling. The irrational mob mentality is perfectly depicted in a grocery store scene. Lucas goes shopping at his local market and he is refused service by the butcher who violently attacks him. As they physically kick him out of the store, he defiantly walks back in and stands his ground. It’s a heroic piece of acting by Mikkelsen.
Danish cinema is exciting and often tackles risky subject matter. Director Thomas Vinterberg is co-founder of Denmark’s Dogme movement along with avant-garde Danish director Lars von Trier. Another notable Danish filmmaker to emerge from the collective is Susanne Bier. Mikkelsen starred in two of Bier’s films, ‘Open Hearts’ and ‘After the Wedding.’ American filmgoers will remember Mikkelsen as the Bond villain in ‘Casino Royale’ and as Hannibal Lecter on the television series ‘Hannibal.’ You’ll be hearing more about ‘The Hunt’ and Mikkelsen’s intense performance as Oscar season heats up in March. It’s an unsettling film to watch but it’s worth your time and now available on DVD and Netflix. http://www.magpictures.com/thehunt/.