THE LIE IS SPREADING.
In an interview with The Telegraph last November, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg replied to a charge from a writer that he wasn’t giving a very positive image of his native country. “I’m not here to do advertising. I’m a Dane and I can talk about Denmark in any way I want. […] I love Denmark: it is a very strong place, but I do know its weaknesses and its dark side,” Vinterberg said. After his great breakthrough, The Celebration (1998), this is the kind of no-holds-barred approach that we expect from the director, and The Hunt delivers.
It is late November in a small town somewhere in Denmark. Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a divorced dad who’s working as a teacher at a daycare center. His ex-wife stubbornly refuses to let their teenage son live with him, but he’s popular among the kids at work. One of them is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the five-year-old daughter of Lucas’s best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). Since her parents sometimes get into heated arguments, Klara prefers the company of Lucas who’s always kind to her. One day, when they’re at the daycare center, she surprises Lucas by giving him a kiss and a gift that she’s made. He gently tells her that the only grownups that she should kiss are her parents.
Visibly rebuffed, Klara refuses to acknowledge that she made the gift and tells Lucas that someone else did. Later that day, inspired by a pornography clip that her older brother shows her on his tablet, she tells another teacher that Lucas has a penis that was “pointing out”. And so the hunt begins…
The basest of emotions
Vinterberg may be aiming for the “dark corners” of Danish society, but as he makes clear in that Telegraph interview the problems he raises are universal and he was primarily inspired by cases in other European nations and the United States. Our common hatred and fear of pedophiles is so strong that we often lose reason in our attempts to deal with them; when our children are in danger, our first instinct is to strangle the threat in whichever way we can.
There is no doubt in this movie that our protagonist is innocent; on the contrary, the filmmakers show exactly how a situation like this can arise because of children’s lively imagination and perhaps some spite toward an adult. What’s interesting to Vinterberg is how easily a child is believed and lifelong bonds between adults are destroyed even though there is no real evidence of wrongdoing; mere suspicions turn an entire village into violent hooligans prepared to do anything in their power to force the “molester” out of their community. Comparisons have been made with Straw Dogs (1971), but this is more credible; we may root for Mikkelsen (who’s excellent throughout), but at the same time we understand the basest of emotions that lie hidden within his friends and neighbors who are about to become enemies.
Vinterberg’s depiction of Lucas’s male friends also provide clues to the mechanics involved here. It all leads up to a devastating sequence in church that could easily have fallen flat in the hands of a lesser director, but Vinterberg has us by the throat and the emotional payoff is huge… combined with an epilogue that bitterly illustrates what experiences Lucas brings from the whole affair.
It’s interesting to note that The Celebration followed the strict rules of Dogme 95 and this one does not. They share thematic similarities and are equally powerful. Skeptical as I am about the value of Dogme 95, I derive some pleasure from seeing how the same effect can be achieved by “conventional” filmmaking, and that this is proven by one of the movement’s former front figures.
The Hunt 2013-Denmark. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Thomas Vinterberg, Sisse Graum Jørgensen, Morten Kaufmann. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Screenplay: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm. Cinematography: Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Cast: Mads Mikkelsen (Lucas), Thomas Bo Larsen (Theo), Alexandra Rapaport (Nadja), Susse Wold, Lars Ranthe, Annika Wedderkopp.
Trivia: Original title: Jagten.
Cannes: Best Actor (Mikkelsen). European Film Awards: Best Screenwriter.
Last word: “When Mads came on board I changed quite a few things in the character in collaboration with him. He changed from being a Robert De Niro in ‘The Deer Hunter’, man of few words, tough guy. I thought well Mads is already a portion of that. He’s such a strong good looking man and a hero already that I thought let’s make him a little bit more of a Scandinavian, humbled, slightly castrated, good hearted man. A good Christian. Then let it develop from there. Let him exist in this sort of limbo, trapped by his own civilized behavior until the head butt, then he transcends into the world of movie men.” (Vinterberg, Collider)