The Hunt aka Jagten, arrived in time for the 8th day of the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival. The film carried with it a billing as a top flight movie, and had a number of distinct film awards in its kit bag. Among the baubles were a Best Actor Award for Mads Mikkelsen from the Cannes Film Festival and a couple of major European Awards for Thomas Vinterberg who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Tobias Lindholm. So my expectations were high, as were those who were lucky enough to land a ticket. The theater was sold out.
The film is set in the present and Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a kindergarten teacher in a small Danish community. That’s right – a kindergarten teacher. And I’m not kidding. The man who delivered an unforgettable cinematic blow to the Bondian jewels belonging to Daniel Craig, plays a school teacher. Ah-nuld played one too, and now Mads. Get over it.
He’s pretty much of a normal and regular guy as the film opens. He’s off on a weekend of hunting, drinking, smoking with his pals. You know – boys will be boys And Van Morrison provides the music with Moondance. Lucas is as much loved by his male pals, as he is loved by the youngsters in the school. He’s separated from his wife and they’re going through some coordination difficulties over visitation rights for their teen-aged son Marcus. Lucas is a good-looking guy, and another teacher (Nadja) at the school sets her sights on him.
But then something happens, and based on what one of Lucas’s students, Klara, reported to Grethe, the school’s headmistress, Lucas quickly falls under a cloud of suspicion. The charges are dark, disturbing, and totally untrue. We know that he is innocent, because we know exactly where little Klara got her information from.
The film is not about an investigation, and is not about any kind of prosecution. What the film is about is the fact that an innocent man’s life is about to be ruined. Not by the law, or the cops, or the courts – but by public opinion.
Mikkelsen is simply superb in his role. He broods, and often his silences are so very telling. He underplays his role. There are simply no histrionics. He will suffer mentally as the townsfolk first look at him askance, then with disgust. He goes from being if not a pillar in the community, then he is at least a well liked and respected man – to a pariah.
They don’t want him around, they don’t want to talk to him. They even go so far as to refuse to let him shop for groceries in the town. And from there it gets not only worse, but also very physical.
For we in the audience, it becomes difficult. Not difficult to watch but more like: Did she say that? Is that what they think? It’s getting dangerous for him. And so forth. Each successive blow to Lucas or his reputation seems to hit us as well.
We are shown the ugliness of a community. It is stunning to watch and absorb. From our perspective it is like an unseen disease silently spreading through the town. We are powerless, and there’s no inoculation or preventative medicine available.
Vinterberg has really delivered a great film here. We know the truth, but the town seems bent on distancing itself from any other possible conclusion other than Lucas did what little Klara said he did. After all, don’t all parents want to believe that their children don’t lie.
But the film is much more than Mikkelsen and Vinterberg. Watch for the strong performance from Thomas Bo Larsen as Theo, Lucas’ best friend and the father of Klara. Annika Wedderkopp turns in amazing performance as Klara. Also deserving of mention are Lasse Fogelstrom as Marcus (above) who is Lucas’s son, Susse Wold as the head of the school, Grethe, and the beautiful Alexandra Rapaport as Nadja (below), who is the girl friend.
If I may remind you of a famous film from 1931. Frankenstein. There’s a scene when Karloff as the monster meets a small child at a pond in the forest. While he is a monster created by Dr. Frankenstein, he is also without motives. Soon the game of tossing pretty flowers into the pond ends. There are no more flowers. And shortly thereafter, the little girl’s father is carrying her lifeless body into the town.
What do the townsfolk do? They rush home and get their staffs, and their swords, their burning torches, and their pitchforks. A manhunt ensues immediately. This is a mob and is almost past the point of being controllable.
Fast forward 80 some years to modern Denmark and this film, The Hunt, and we face almost the same sort of thing. Only without the burning torches, the pitchforks, and the lust for blood. But you know something? This is far scarier.
Four point five out of five. Highly recommended. And the film has a deal with Magnolia Pictures. Likely a late summer release. Don’t miss it. Check out the trailer below.