Among the five films nominated in the Best Foreign Language category, The Hunt from Denmark is easily the darkest. It introduces us to a cast of sympathetic characters leading normal lives in a rural Danish town and then takes us on an unsettling journey as the community is torn apart by doubt and suspicion.
The film’s protagonist, Lucas, is a recently divorced teacher, who has lost his job and is working at a local kindergarten. He is a popular member of the close-knit middle class community – including his hard-drinking deer – hunting buddies. When one of Lucas's pupils falsely accuses him of sexual abuse, it has devastating repercussions for him, and ultimately for everybody around him. The accusation very rapidly turns to conviction among the members of the community and Lucas becomes human prey – the victim of the community’s witch hunt. Suddenly the town is in the throes of a collective hysteria that seems to have lurked right under the placid surface of this civilized and idyllic small-town community. The film becomes a chilling dissection of a community’s psychological unraveling.
“I think it is understandable,” says the director Thomas Vinterberg about the community’s reaction to the girl’s accusation. “One can understand both sides. One would hopefully react better, but based on the research I did, I learned that there have been much worse reactions in similar cases.”
Mads Mikkelsen, who also starred in last year’s Golden Globe-nominated film in the Best Foreign Language category A Royal Affair, won the best actor award at Cannes in 2012 for his performance as the falsely accused Lucas. “He is just a brilliant actor. Really outstanding,” says Vinterberg about his 48-year old leading man, who had his international breakthrough as a Bond-villain in Casino Royale from 2006. “Before Mads came on board, Lucas was more of a tough guy. He was working-class, a man of few words, independent, strong. I had thought of Robert De Niro’s character in The Deer Hunter. With Mads, we both thought it would be interesting to make him more soft, pure-hearted and humble.” In one of the film’s scenes, Lucas tells his teenage son: “There is so much evil in the world, and if we hold onto each other it will go away.” He believes that sanity and humanity will prevail if he only sticks to what is right.
Vinterberg is one of the directors spearheading Danish cinema’s recent revival. Before he was thirty, he had co-founded the Dogma movement with Lars Von Trier and commanded world attention with his 1998 film The Celebration. That film also dealt with sexual abuse; in The Hunt that subject is really more of pretext for the exploration of mob mentality and the damage it can do. “This movie is about a modern witch hunt,” says the 44-year old Vinterberg. “It is about a lie that escalates and becomes like a virus. It is about forgiveness, love, friendship, lies and truth – issues that move me.”
The ending of Hunt is disturbing and the film resists finite closure. The image of an unidentifiable hunter pointing a rifle towards Lucas suggests that the hunt will never end. At least not for Lucas, and his world will never be the same.
Tina Jøhnk Christensen