The Hunt Review


Dane Thomas Vinterberg is a director who (rightfully) achieved a great deal of notoriety with his 1998 film The Celebration, which is in the books as the very first movie with the Dogme ’95 seal of approval. The Lars von Trier– and Vinterberg-led movement called upon filmmakers to shun special effects, extra lighting, manufactured sets—basically anything that isn’t 100% organic and natural. It was a bold, attention-grabbing movement that didn’t last long but ultimately made its mark on film history, and The Celebration, in addition to be Dogme’s first movie, is undoubtedly its most influential.

Vinterberg’s career didn’t really take off in the movement’s wake the way his Dogme co-conspirator’s did, but he popped back up somewhat quietly at Cannes 2012 with his latest, The Hunt. And while this Mads Mikkelsen-starring drama about a rural kindergarten teacher wrongfully accused of pedophilia wouldn’t have been Dogme-approved, I’ll give it whatever real or imaginary stamp, sticker, or seal it takes to get folks to watch it. It’s an absolute stunner of a movie on every level.

Mikkelson plays Lucas. He’s divorced and father to a teenage boy, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) who lives with his mother. Lucas and his friends form a very tightly-knit family of sorts, and its the daughter, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), of his very best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), who accuses Lucas of wrongdoing. We’re offered very little explanation why she lies—she has a bit of a crush on her teacher, it seems—but that’s small potatoes compared to the way its handled by the adults.

The school’s head teacher questions Klara, who merely nods when prompted. The police become involved, and the parents of all the other children are told. Lucas’ life, which was just starting to come back together (Marcus was about to move back in with him), spirals out of control, and while no one has any evidence of these horrible crimes, mob mentality sets in, and Lucas—everyone’s dear friend—becomes public enemy number one.

While I want to spread the word and get people to watch this extraordinary movie, you might want to think twice if, say, you have very high blood pressure. The Hunt will unquestionably make you angry, but the way Vinterberg and co-screenwriter Tobias Lindholm (see also: A Hijacking) achieve that intense emotional reaction is part of what makes The Hunt truly exceptional. The film doesn’t really have any villains. While we sympathize with Lucas because we know he’s innocent, we’re forced to also put ourselves in the shoes of these parents. What are they supposed to do? There are no easy answers, and The Hunt doesn’t pretend otherwise.

For Mikkelsen, it’s career-best work. The film’s home run scene occurs late as the entire town is gathered for a Christmas celebration. Here, he’s laid bare, and as he remarks to another character, he has absolutely nothing left. The intense sadness of his isolation isn’t lost on anyone in attendance, and while he’s still a pariah, no one feels good about his anguish. Regret paints every gorgeous frame of the film, but as we look into the soul of this betrayed and distraught man, that regret is replaced for a brief moment by something more frightening. Mikkelsen puts a face on absolute human destruction. It’s indescribably powerful.

By eschewing the “Did he or didn’t he?” route other directors might have traveled, Vinterberg is able to craft something more concerned with morals than mind games. It’s a thriller without thrills—a tense motion picture with an art-house sensibility and polish. It’s a very difficult watch, but it’s so rewarding. And the ending? Unforgettable—like the movie.

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