Although, of the Dogme 95 filmmakers he was first out of the gate with ‘Festen (The Celebration)’ in 1998, subsequently Thomas Vinterberg has been very much in the shadow of former partner in the movement Lars von Trier. As Von Trier reaped both acclaim (‘Dancer in the Dark’, ‘Dogville’) and controversy (‘Antichrist’, ‘Manderlay’) in equal measure, Vinterberg put out a number of low-profile films that failed to garner a great deal of attention (‘It’s All About Love’, ‘Dear Wendy’). The balance could be set to change though as Vinterberg comes back with ‘The Hunt’ an outstanding social drama.
Mads Mikkelsen, who must be the biggest star in Denmark at the moment, plays Lucas, a recently divorced kindergarten teacher working in a small, rural Danish town, who suddenly finds himself accused of sexually abusing a young female student of his. Mikkelsen gives us a tremendous portrait of a good man forced into a dire situation (he won best actor at Cannes).
It’s not a particularly original story but it’s handled incredibly well. While many similar attempts at such a plot might be tempted to be ambiguous with the audience, leaving them unsure over whether or not Lucas actually committed the crime in question, ‘The Hunt’ is clear from the get go that Lucas is innocent. He’s not even being accused of someone else’s crime either; the sexual abuse does not actually take place.
Vinterberg skilfully portrays the events that lead to Lucas’s accusation in a series of short sequences that demonstrate how the girl, who has problems at home, comes to dislike Lucas, overhears certain lewd expressions elsewhere, and repeats them to her head teacher. Then, in a most troubling scene, she is interviewed by a policeman who takes what few words she has said and turns them into a series of yes-or-no questions, on the promise that she can go and play again once she has answered.
From here, ‘The Hunt’ charts the vicious spread of the rumour throughout the town, and the subsequent ostracism and harassment of Lucas. He doesn’t become hysterical, but instead attempts to reclaim his dignity with a quiet determination. A further layer is added by the fact Lucas was, prior to the accusation, attempting to claim custody of his teenage son, who becomes a key player in the films latter half.
‘The Hunt’ does mark a return to similar themes for Vinterberg, (‘Festen’ also involved accusations of sexual abuse) but free from the constraints of Dogme 95 he can explore them in a much more mature and affecting manner. A gripping, suspenseful and chillingly believable drama about how a few small words from a child can threaten someone’s entire existence.