Director: Thomas Vinterberg

****

The imagination of a child is a remarkable thing, energetic and without limits. Unfortunately unconstrained imagination, even that of a child, can be reckless and dangerous. In The Hunt, the imagination and stories of one child threaten a man’s ability to live. It’s the butterfly effect on a horrifyingly human level.

Thomas Vinterberg never shies away from the controversial. Whether it’s the familial lies of Festen or the teenage vigilantes in Dear Wendy, Vinterberg is at his best when grasping a nettle, shunting audiences out of their comfort zone with upfront probes of societal mores. With the put-upon Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) as our guide through the moral morass, we’re reminded that even innocent children can lie before the law, and that their innocence can be corrupted in the blink of an eye. Lucas is a kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town and leads a conventional and happy life. Though divorced, he has a teenage son (Lasse Fogelstrøm), a girlfriend (Alexandra Rapaport) and a job he loves. He’s an upstanding sort of a gent, so why would little Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) accuse him of exposing himself to her? An earlier misunderstanding and the workings of a child’s mind are all it takes to bring Lucas’ world crashing down.

Even though he’s clearly innocent, the speed and energy with which the town turns on Lucas is frightening. The school principal Grethe (Susse Wold) suspends Lucas and calls the police in. All the while, Lucas’ friends and neighbours are avoiding him, lapsing into occasional violence. The intensity of the film will be matched only by audience anger. In an age of up-to-the-minute news reports and a distinct lack of fact-checking on Newsnight, The Hunt is a reminder of a simple legal maxim: the accused is innocent until proven otherwise. Vinterberg and his director of photography Charlotte Bruus Christensen paint an idealistic rural idyll for these characters to live in, where hunters chase stags through perennially autumnal woods (A less-than-subtle metaphor for events to come). Judgement should be reserved until all the facts are in, but the townsfolk in The Hunt seem to pride themselves on preserving innocence. They seem to know little beyond their small-town haven, making them all the more indignant.

Lucas seems like an easy target, isolated and emasculated (Is it a coincidence he’s the only male teacher in the kindergarten?), but he’s not weak. As Lucas, Mikkelsen is utterly terrific. His granite jaw and focused stares may seem too rigid to convey a wide spectrum of emotion, but his presence is magnetic. Initial disbelief becomes crushing sadness, before a release of anger in the final act. His award recognition (including Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival) is well deserved, and he should make more award ballots before the season’s out. Amongst a solid supporting cast, the surprising standout is young Wedderkorp, whose scenes with Mikkelsen are both fraught with emotion and tender to watch. Less tender are some of the scenes in the third act, when emotions come to the fore and melodrama seeps in. Up to that point, though, The Hunt has greater control over its emotions, by turns angry, funny and genuinely moving. With a vital question at its core and a final scene to leave you thinking and on edge, The Hunt is Vinterberg at his best; confrontational, raw and riveting.

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