Let’s get him

Catch this grip­ping film now be­fore it suf­fers a Hol­ly­wood re­make, ad­vises Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

THE HUNT/JAGTEN ★★★★ Di­rected by Thomas Vin­ter­berg. Star­ring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, An­nika Wed­derkopp 15A cert, Cineworld/IFI/IMC Dún Laoghaire/Light House/Screen, Dublin, 115 min THOMAS VIN­TER­BERG’S thrilling melo­drama, a hit at Cannes, ar­rives in cinemas at a par­tic­u­larly ap­pro­pri­ate moment. It’s not just that The Hunt is among the grimmest Christ­mas movies ever made. The Dan­ish pic­ture also has to do with one of the sea­son’s hot-but­ton topics: in­se­cure ac­cu­sa­tions of child abuse and the man­ner of their prop­a­ga­tion.

As it hap­pens, The Hunt has lit­tle to say about the in­sid­i­ous power of silly so­cial me­dia ap­pli­ca­tions. The pro­tag­o­nist, a teacher, is de­stroyed by old-school ana­logue gossip. One would not be al­to­geth-

irish­time­sirish­times. com/ cul­ture

er sur­prised to hear that the script had been lifted – with only mi­nor tweak­ing – from a re­cently dis­cov­ered Ib­sen play.

The ir­re­sistible Mads Mikkelsen plays Lu­cas, a well-liked em­ployee at a Dan­ish kinder­garten. He is re­cently di­vorced, but gets on swim­mingly well with his equally good-na­tured son. Week­ends are spent scar­ing up slightly clumsy metaphors at an ele­gant hunt­ing lodge: the un­for­tu­nate deer come to stand in for the ha­rassed Lu­cas. Ev­ery­thing be­gins to turn ghastly when Klara (An­nika Wed­derkopp), one of his pupils, blun­ders her way into sug­gest­ing that some in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tact has taken place.

Vin­ter­berg and To­bias Lind­holm, his co-writer, ask us to be­lieve that – in­stinc­tively and un­der­stand­ably in­clined to­wards sup­port­ing the chil­dren – teach­ers and so­cial work­ers could sub­con­sciously con­spire to im­plant false mem­o­ries in the sup­posed vic­tim’s mind.

Cob­bled to­gether from real cases, the script just about con­vinces us that this could be so. A per­verse im­pulse drives oth­er­wise de­cent peo­ple into be­liev­ing that any ques­tion­ing of any ac­cu­sa­tion con­sti­tutes a be­trayal of the chil­dren.

Back in the groove af­ter a few mis­fires, Vin­ter­berg, is gen­er­ous to­wards all his characters. When Lu­cas’s best friend, the girl’s fa­ther, even­tu­ally shuns the ac­cused man, we sense the ap­palling con­flict bub­bling in his con­science. Who would dare to side with a man whose name has been men­tioned in the same sen­tence as th­ese most trou­bling of of­fences?

The Hunt is ad­mirably for­giv­ing of Klara. Swept along by a tide of ill-feel­ing, she comes across as an­other vic­tim of the Kafkaesque fer­vour. In one of the film’s most touch­ing scenes (though not the sad­dest) she calls round to see Lu­cas, now com­pletely os­tracised, to ask in­no­cently af­ter his friendly, goofy Labrador. Lu­cas shows no mal­ice to the un­for­tu­nate child.

The pace of Lu­cas’s de­cline from ad­mired pro­fes­sional to ut­ter pariah does seem a lit­tle hard to credit. In Oc­to­ber he is ev­ery­one’s pal. By Christ­mas even the butcher re­fuses to sell him his chops. The sense of a tight com­mu­nity that still chat­ters over walls is – for the men­ace on dis­play – just a lit­tle quaint.

Never mind. The tele­scop­ing of plot al­lows Vin­ter­berg to rat­tle up the ten­sion at a dizzy­ing rate. Af­ter giv­ing us Festen in 1998 (can it really be so long?), the di­rec­tor drifted to­wards avant-garde projects such as the un­der­rated Dear Wendy and the baf­fling It’s All About Love. With its thump­ing plot points and unstoppable mo­men­tum, The Hunt marks an en­tirely un­ex­pected and largely suc­cess­ful em­brace of main­stream val­ues.

The di­rec­tor is greatly aided in those en­deav­ours by Mikkelsen. To this point, the ac­tor has found him­self play­ing cold fish and out­right ma­ni­acs. Vin­ter­berg al­lows Mads to ra­di­ate hith­erto un­ex­ploited de­grees of warmth as a man who, de­spite try­ing des­per­ately hard to do the right thing, finds the civilised world in­creas­ingly will­ing to march on his house with flam­ing torches. His best ac­tor prize at Cannes was de­served.

If ever there were a film that looked doomed to suf­fer re­make by Hol­ly­wood, it is The Hunt. Though Vin­ter­berg’s pic­ture does some­times over­heat, it de­mands to be seen be­fore events are trans­ported to Des Moines. The most grip­ping film of the month.

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