Guilty by Innuendo (Film Review: “The Hunt”)

Because the Oscar nominations just came out and because The Hunt  (Jagten) has yet again been nominated for Best Foreign Film (it received a Golden Globe nod in the same category), Norma’s Streaming Picks is returning to Denmark, and to the fabulous Mads Mikkelsen in a milestone performance worthy of Best Actor, if it were up to me. Indeed, this is the performance that won him that very honor at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Simply put, The Hunt is a story of a life ruined.

 

SnapShot Plot

Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a humble and understated schoolteacher who’s just beginning to pick up the pieces of his life after a bitter divorce, from which he’s struggling to repair his relationship with his teenage son. He’s also adjusting to his new job as a kindergarten teacher after having taught much older kids in his previous school. But Lucas is a natural with the children, affectionate and respectful of their feelings, and for this they clearly adore him. His lifelong best friend, Theo (in a nuanced performance by Thomas Bo Larsen) is a hard-drinking guy whose rocky relationship with his own wife has wielded some damaging effects on their little girl, Klara. It’s clear from the start that Klara (in an amazingly transparent performance by Annika Wedderkopp) is an imaginative yet profoundly sad child whose introspective shell is only pierced by her love for Lucas, who she’s known since the day she was born. She trusts him, and Lucas likewise feels a sincere, avuncular devotion to her. It’s no surprise when Klara develops an innocent, romantic crush on Lucas, and in a perfect storm of circumstantial events, Lucas finds himself having to gently rebuff her inappropriate, albeit childish advances. You know the expression, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? I’ll just say it was a chilling moment when this little girl decided to tell a lie, and not just any lie but the kind of lie that ignites fury and fear in a community and builds upon itself with the relentless momentum of an out-of-control wildfire. At that precise moment, Lucas is doomed.

 

Parting Shot

If The Crucible mated with The Children’s Hour, with some gene-splicing from What Maisie Knew, their tragic offspring would be The Hunt. Director Thomas Vinterberg has given us an unsentimental yet shatteringly heartbreaking portrait of a small town life reduced to bitter ash from the ravages of gossip, innuendo, fear and tribalism. And he did it without too many cinematic flourishes, either. By the end of the movie, I realized what a quiet film this is; there’s hardly a musical score whatsoever. I have often been critical of films that lack enough music, in that a proper score serves to maintain continuity, create atmosphere, and build emotion and suspense. Here, composer Nikolaj Egelund seems to be saying – and I agree –  that the emotional heartbeat of the film resonates on an even more honest level without a heavy musical hand.

Without needing a Spoiler Alert, I’ll just say that the ending sequence is an ingenious piece of movie-making in the way it suggests one thing about the possibility of Redemption and then says another, more profoundly truthful thing, about the nature of Man.

There are two moments that stay with me from this film. The first is an early scene in which Lucas is playfully ganged up on by a bunch of little children in an innocent game of tackle. At one point, he jokingly cries, “You’re too many!” It’s a grim foreshadowing of how an entire town all too eagerly and relentlessly subscribes to a witch hunt. And the other is the shattering climax in the church on Christmas Eve, in which everything is basically revealed in one long, soul-wrenching look between two old friends. The effect is electrifying.

 

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