This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 9th June 2013
Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, A Royal Affair) deservedly won the Best Actor prize at Cannes last year for his flawless performance as Lucas, a kindergarten teacher accused by his best friend’s young daughter of sexual abuse.
What makes the story so interesting (among other adjectives we’ll get to in a moment) is that it rejects the “Did he, didn’t he” narrative and clearly shows us from the outset that Lucas is an honourable man who becomes the victim in a situation where men are usually the perpetrators. The fact that Mikkelsen portrays him credibly as an everyman (or rather, any man) makes the tale all the more devastating.
Lucas is divorced, battling for more time with his son, but otherwise happy and well-liked by friends, colleagues and the children in his care. The film cheerily opens with typical Scandinavian (male) full-frontal nudity as the chaps take an icy plunge; later we see them drinking together, Lucas very much one of their treasured gang. It sets the scene painfully for everything that he has to lose when, suddenly, he is sideswiped, and slowly broken down, by an accusation that turns his community and closest friends against him.
Writer/director Thomas Vinterberg is known for his co-founding of the Danish film ethos known as Dogme95, with that slave to controversy, Lars von Trier. While The Hunt is more mainstream in style (and not a Dogme film), a commitment to realism is nonetheless impeccably rendered here in every single performance, from the tentative investigations of the head teacher to the dilemma felt by the child’s parents (with a typically star performance from Danish filmstar Thomas Bo Larsen).
Young Klara (Annika Wedderkopp in her film debut) is a particular revelation in such a crucial role – a real casting coup in finding such extraordinary poise in one so young. To maintain the viewer’s outrage at the tale, it is important that Klara doesn’t come off as a manipulative villain. Here she is merely an infatuated kid who makes a childish error and then gets caught up in a nightmare from which she herself cannot wake.
Despite the proficiency of cast and crew, one thing that may not ring true with all viewers is quite how a supposedly progressive society like Denmark would allow a child psychologist to ask leading questions of a child and wind up disregarding the accused adult. But if you can suspend your disbelief in that area, you will lose yourself in everything else that is masterful about this film.
The film is effortlessly beautiful in photography and subtle soundtrack, shot with an intimacy that denies any suggestion of “acting”.
While hugely compelling and affecting, it is also very distressing to witness Lucas’ downfall – one scene in particular will make your blood boil. The film’s spiral of awfulness rapidly depicts the worst destruction of a life you can imagine for anyone, brilliantly realised by all the players.