Friday, January 31, 2014

The Hunt

***1/2 out of ****

Currently available for download and rental, is an Oscar contender for the Best Foreign Language Feature this year. It is Denmark’s The Hunt, a film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, starring the country’s most world-renowned actor, Mads Mikkelsen, who is best known in America for playing the famous cannibalistic psychiatrist on NBC’s Hannibal.

It is a very upsetting story with the kind of deeply intimate performances I have come to expect from a Danish drama. As in the great Susanne Bier film, After the Wedding, Milkkelsen, is a gentler looking person than in the awkwardly intimidating roles he plays internationally. I think that there is oftentimes something unique to be observed when you see an actor in the comfort of their native environment. Yes, I talk about actors like they’re Zoo animals.   

Vinterberg once made a film called The Celebration, about a man who attends a family event to publicly reveal childhood secrets of sexual abuse by his father, only to be met with outrage by family members who refuse to believe him. The Hunt is a near inversion, as its story follows a kind male Kindergarten teacher (Milkkelsen) who suffers greatly after false accusations of the same thing.

While the single divorced man is going through significant life improvements, an unfortunate misunderstanding takes place at the school. Before long, he loses his job and is regularly ridiculed and threatened by members of the community. Under such strain, he begins to shut out those who still love and trust him.

The film wisely gives a close-up look at the lives of its characters in order to empathize with their choices. This is especially true when following the small girl (Annika Wedderkopp) and the seemingly insignificant events, which lead to her telling a lie with ramifications that a little kid couldn’t imagine.

The father of the child (Thomas Bo Larsen) is the teacher’s oldest friend and is conflicted until his parental instinct, in reaction to his protective wife (Anne Louise Hassing), cause him to violently act against someone he’s trusted his whole life.  

The most frustrating elements of the film are sadly true to life. I would like to think that when dealing with a serious matter like sexual molestation, that children are not asked leading yes-or-no questions. I would also like to believe that people are descent enough to refrain from hurting the innocent loved-ones of a shunned man. However, we read about such societal failures in today's news.

Using poor methods in order to validate an appalling offence is rather inexcusable. I can understand that when a child’s safety is at stake, people don’t tend to think twice. Vinterberg was inspired to make the film after reading news stories of ruined lives from sexual assault cases that turned out to be refuted way too long after the accusation. The damage was done.

What Vinterberg, Mikkelsen and this beautiful cast accomplish is something that feels honest through what could have easily been cheap melodrama. It is a very thoughtful film.

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