Release Date: November 30th, 2012 (UK); January 10th, 2013 (Denmark)
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen
“What’s your favourite dish?”
The question, posed by a young, chirpy girl not long after the opening credits, is a humdrum one. The kind of conversation starter that represents the mundanity of everyday life, or in this case, the imagination of a child yearning to learn more about people, the world and everything. But also a sentence that sets the proceeding tone, run-of-the-mill, at least for 20 minutes or so. The question then, is a devious one. It represents a laid-back, frothy atmosphere that in hindsight turns to chilling and haunting given the almost two hours of harrowing on-screen events that follow. The question, therefore, is brilliant. At least, its connotations are in the long run. The two whose conversation includes said food-related musing are also the two whose actions and reactions determine what is come. The question, above all else, is apt. Because only a daring director can script a meal question and pose it to Mads Mikkelsen. And, apparently, only Thomas Vinterberg possesses the smarts to cheekily have an imagination-driven child ask the question. And only once the lingering shroud of Hannibal-esque clouds are confronted and subsequently expunged, can the narrative truly advance and become one of the year’s toughest and absolute best.
Venison, by the way.
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a caring fellow; his dedicated work at the local kindergarten secondary only to a day-to-day template constructed by the enthusiastic youngsters, to whom he abides. In the evenings, Lucas spends time endorsing the merriment brought on by the combination of alcohol and a tight-knit community, and at weekends he either crazily plunges into freezing water with his chums, or tactfully hunts with his gun. Normal life. In fact, the only oddity encasing this small Danish community is that it is so friendly. That is, until a fleeting comment escapes the mouth of Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), one of the children Lucas looks after. The words are untrue, generated from the petulant anger of an unassuming child, but they still send shock waves around the neighbourhood. Subsequently, that day-to-day existence Lucas thrives on spirals through an unforgiving rigour. For an ingrained belief can never truly be shaken.
From the get-go, director Thomas Vinterberg sets out to achieve a specific but absolutely necessary tone. Lucas is always the central cog from which we gauge emotion. As daylight seeps from the screen, early interactions are conversational. When darkness falls, raucous beer-fuelled gatherings evoke jolly connotations of Nordic Vikings. There’s a familiar communal atmosphere, enveloping familiar people. Therefore when the agonising allegation is made, by a child no less, the audience has already bought into the realism shrouding proceedings. From then, a simmering tension takes over. Vinterberg does not over-egg or ‘Hollywoodize’ anything; even though detective teachers and informed parents are aware of the situation, they don’t explode in fits of rage or anger. Rather, internal disgust consumes all, allowing the narrative to tentatively build to its anticipated crescendo. Vinterberg’s controlled approach is admirable and ultimately successful; in this sense, the film is very mature and the filmmaking is very accomplished.
Vinterberg also hammers home the accused’s criminal status: at no point during the film is Lucas positioned as guilty. That’s never an issue, not in the eyes of the audience anyway. We know Lucas is innocent, but we also find it difficult to persecute a child for a mistaken phrase. And what right, if any, does anyone have in denouncing the actions of parents and a community trying to protect their own? Lucas himself mightn’t even challenge the paternal instinct, given his own attempts to secure custody of his son. The Hunt ponders this question, and tackles resultant topical societal issues. Important ones. Soon after Klara’s confession (“I don’t believe a child would lie about these things”) disapproving fumes centred on Lucas’ apparent actions spread like wildfire throughout the area, as he becomes the poster-boy of wrongfulness. These reverberations are not only felt by Lucas himself, but also by his son and partner. The teacher’s identity being revealed so soon after the incident essentially scalds an innocent man for life, a notion the film appears to consider unfair.
Bookended by two apparently different but thematically resounding hunting outings, proceedings never really ease up — mirroring probable real life. Towards the climax, a scene involving Lucas and Klara will have you watching through bated breath, and there’s more still thereafter. Speaking of the two primary players in this chess game of moral standing and right or wrong-doing, the actors involved all have something to offer said disturbingly riveting happenings. As Lucas, Mads Mikkelsen delivers arguably a career-best performance; amiable at the beginning, poignantly steadfast throughout his plight and never without dignity which, given his character’s predicament, is an extraordinary achievement from the Dane. Annika Wedderkopp plays Klara and more than holds her own surrounded by many adult peers. She’s a child obviously, thus inherently boasts that endearing quality, but is much better than simply charming. The pair share an unwaveringly realistic dynamic.
Other noteworthy performances emanate from Lasse Fogelstrøm as Lucas’ son Marcus, and Thomas Bo Larsen as Theo, Lucas’ best friend and the father of Klara. Marcus is troubled by the allegations made against his dad, yet determined not to let it get the better of him. One scene, subtle in delivery but upsetting in substance, sees Marcus barred from a supermarket while in the vicinity of a girl he likes. Fogelstrøm is just as meaningful in these moments as he is during his emotional tirade later on. Trust is the issue when it comes to Theo, whose immediate outpouring of anger subdues a lingering instinctive feeling that his best friend is innocent. This concept is highlighted throughout the film, where characters inadvertently advance a lie and ignore a truth in order to find some sort of closure. Larsen is excellent in his role, torn, bewildered and hurt by the goings-on. Alexandra Rapaport plays Nadja, the love interest of Lucas, another victim of events.
The Hunt is an exceptional piece of filmmaking, not afraid to explore tough questions and certainly not unwilling to challenge any subsequent societal issues. Chartered by a magnificent Mads Mikkelsen performance, and crafted meticulously by Thomas Vinterberg, the film doesn’t do much wrong. At times the silence is deafening, and as the nerve-shredding tensions builds, that silence turns to a harrowing closet hysteria.
The hunt indeed.