I can’t really say that The Hunt, the new Danish movie about a man accused of pedophilia that was not that country’s foreign language film entry in the Oscar race (that went to A Royal Affair), is particularly ambitious. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre of films about child molesting except perhaps make you realize how really sad it is that enough movies have been made about the subject that we can actually give it its own genre and that we can actually now say that a film brings nothing new to the topic that myriads of other films haven’t already.
At the same time, it definitely gets the job done and is never boring. There are also some jarringly effective scenes of violence (a son defending his father; a confrontation at a grocery store; a painful interaction at Christmas Eve mass—we may think that Europe is fully secularized, but the more one sees movies and TV shows from over there, the more one realizes how important religion still is). And an unnerving, in a way, conclusion that dramatizes how easily one can forget all the atrocities that a group of people have rendered unto you; the ending seems to suggest that time heals everything (well, for almost everybody) and that one can become friends again quite easily with people who have betrayed you as if nothing had ever happened (is that a happy ending or an unhappy one, I’m not quite sure).
But the movie also has one other thing going for it. The lead is played by Mads Mikkelson, the alliterative leading man who is fast becoming an international star (he was La Chiffre in Casino Royale and also stars in A Royal Affair—you’d think he’d learn to share, by now). I don’t know what it is about him. He’s not traditionally handsome. His cheekbones are impossibly high and he has a perpetual look of Garboisc sadness with eyes that always seem to be watering in that Katherine Hepburn post Summertime way. But still, he’s attractive and intriguing. He’s Humphrey Bogart with lighter hair. He’s also talented, which never hurts.
In The Hunt he plays Lucas, a kindergarten teacher. His best friend’s daughter, also one of his students, makes a sexually suggestive comment about him in a fit of pique. The accusation isn’t true. It’s a little unclear that she fully understands what she said. But it’s too late. Even when she tries to take it back, no one will let her. And Lucas’ life quickly gets sucked into a dark hole. And Mikkelson makes the most of the role winning the best actor award at Cannes.
The movie was written by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm with Vinterberg also directing. Vinterberg first burst onto the international scene with his explosive Dogma film Festen (The Celebration), a triumph that may turn out to be one of the most important films of the 1990’s due to Vinterberg’s groundbreaking use of digital filmmaking that is today being integrated into almost every area of the industry. His movies continued exploring the darker side of Danish life. In 2010, he and Lindholm also collaborated on the movie Submarino (no, it has nothing to do Marvel DC comics), a stark study of two brothers psychologically damaged and estranged over an incident that happened when they were little and who now reunite for their mother’s funeral. I don’t know what it is about Scandinavian film. Denmark is supposed to be the happiest country on earth, but you’d never know it from the movies they make.
As effective as The Hunt is, it also feels a bit like Vinterberg is marking time. As was said, he doesn’t really bring anything new to the subject and thus the movie ends up being more of a first rate vehicle to show off Mikkelson’s talents. If you want to see a really devastating film about a man falsely accused of molesting children, see Guilty, the true story of a man and his wife arrested for being part of a child slave ring. Lucas’s ordeal was spring break in Cancun in comparison to the hero of Guilty. But until then, The Hunt will more than do.