"The Hunt" **** (out of ****)
Watching a film such as the Danish film, "The Hunt" (2013), makes my blood boil. Here is a film which holds a mirror up to society so we can see our reflection and see a world full of gossip, hate, lies and vindictiveness. Some people in this world are full of malice.
"The Hunt" makes me hate people. There have been other movies which have affected me in the same way. There was Lars Von Trier's "Dogville" (2004), Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" (2002) and Neil Slavin's "Focus" (2001). All of these movies are masterpieces. All of them show society at its worst. All of them grab the viewer and stir our emotions. The reason these movies get under my skin is because I find it so sad to think I live in a world where people can hurt one another. That there are people that act the way characters in these movies act saddens me to my core.
In "The Hunt" a teacher, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a young female student, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp). She says Lucas showed her his erect penis. The head of the kindergarten, Grethe (Susse Wold) believes the accusation because as she puts it, "she always believes the children".
Without giving Lucas too many details he is fired from the school and a police report is filed. The community quickly turns against him. They never really question the child and soon other parents have a feeling their child has been molested too. There isn't any proof but they feel it. And a parent knows, right? Also, you have to ask yourself, why would a child lie? Children are not known to make up stories and lie. They are precious and innocent.
There is never any doubt that Lucas is innocent. The movie doesn't try to create a blurry line between fact and fiction. Is Lucas really innocent? He does spend a lot of time with those kids. Why? "The Hunt" doesn't go down this path or ask these questions. Child molestation is a serious subject. It should not be taken lightly and I under no circumstances mean to imply it should be. It is a serious offense. But I don't believe "The Hunt" is trying to say never believe children. Instead I think the movie is pointing a finger at the parents. We live in a world where people believe what they want to believe. People rush to judgement. Condemn without knowing all the facts and quickly turn violent. There is a cruelty lurking with in all people. Gossip and lies preoccupied our thoughts and fill our days.
A movie which came to mind watching "The Hunt" was an older film, "The Children's Hour" (1961) with Audrey Hepburn. In that movie a student accuses two women of being lovers. The women are shun from society. Both films deal with children creating gossip for no other reason than they are confused and angry at the adults but don't know who to deal with that angry. So they lie and create stories not fully understanding the implications of what they are saying.
"The Hunt" is a much more subtle picture than "The Children's Hour" or any of the films I mentioned. It isn't an intense film in the way a slasher film is. The movie very slowly builds tension. It slowly unravels. We wonder where will this movie take us? How can a story like this end?
Mads Mikkelsen won a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance here. He plays a man struggling to make sense of what is going on around him. All the facts are not presented to him so he doesn't know how best to defend himself though we can clearly see his struggle.
In some scenes Lucas seems to be a victim but in the same scene he fights back. But this is not a revenge picture. He fights back when pushed too far but his instinct is to explain himself. To find someone that will give him a moment to explain the truth. To hear his side of the story. But the town has made up its mind. He is guilty.
The movie has an ending which may bother some. It doesn't give us real satisfaction. There is no finger pointing scene where Lucas confronts the town and proves his innocence. If anything the movie ends on a note which suggest, hate and gossip will always prevail. Life is a vicious circle.
"The Hunt" was directed by Thomas Vinterberg and has been greeted with much critical acclaim. Aside from winning the Best Actor award at Cannes it was also nominated for the palm d'or. It is Denmark's official entry for the Academy Awards. It has been nominated for a Golden Globe in the foreign language film category. And was named one of the five best international films by the National Board of Review.
This is a haunting film. The work of a truly gifted filmmaker. It was made with a great deal of craft by a natural storyteller. Someone who is able to create realistic characters and present them in a world we recognize as our own.
This is one of the year's best films!