The Hunt (Review)

The Hunt (2012 film).jpg

For the past year, I’ve been a big fan of the podcast Filmspotting. Recorded in Chicago at National Public Radio affiliate WBEZ, it’s one of the most famous podcasts out there, dissecting films and offering a new Top 5 list of whatever they can think of in movies each week.

Besides general criticism and knowledge, hosts Josh Larsen and Adam Kempenaar also have giveaways, which occasionally include tickets to advance film screenings in Chicago. Purely on a whim, I recently entered to win two advance tickets to an advance screening of a Danish film from last year, The Hunt and wound up winning.

So I went Monday night with a friend to the screening and…well. saying I enjoyed it doesn’t necessarily describe it. I think it’s best to view it the same way I view movies like Waltz with Bashir and Dancer in the Dark: absolutely essential and provocative storytelling, but one that doesn’t elicit a positive reaction, which is, I feel, a good thing.

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (the co-founder of the Dogme 95 movement), the film stars Mads Mikkelsen (who is pure brilliance as the title character of NBC’s brilliant, little-seen Hannibal) as Lucas, a middle-aged divorcee who works at a kindergarten because the secondary school he used to teach at has closed. His life is in a bit of a rut, although things pick up when an attractive female coworker (Alexandra Rapaport) hooks up with him and his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom) announces he wants to move back in with him. However, all this comes crashing down.

After her older brother’s idiot friend shows her a picture of a penis, Klara (Annika Weddenkopp), the daughter of Lucas’ best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), confused by that and by her childlike crush on Lucas, unwittingly claims Lucas exposed himself to and molested her. The adults around her ask her leading questions to confirm their suspicions and, despite barely talking to or confronting Lucas himself, proceed to single him out and make his life a living hell.

This is one tough film. The conflict essentially boils down to “Do we believe in a human being we all know is decent, or do we believe the child, because children never lie?” That phrase “children never lie” is uttered over and over again throughout the film and it’s fascinating to see how the story’s characters take that thought and run with it, even to horrifying ends.

Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award at Cannes last year for this film and watching him, you know why. Every single minute he’s on screen is captivating and the quiet dignity with which he conducts himself even to the point of despair is heartbreaking and mesmerizing.  Fogelstrom is completely convincing as Marcus, and when the story shifts to him for a substantial amount, he proves himself capable, showcasing the confusion and torment that a child of divorce plus a circumstance like this no doubt has. Bo Larsen plays mostly a riff on the best friend but he has his scary moments. Weddenkopp is now one of my favorite child actors due to how natural she is; it’s uncanny how effortless she makes it seem.

Amazon doesn’t have a DVD release for this out anytime soon, but if this is playing in your area, check it out. It’s a marvelous drama that raises questions in a way few other films do.

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