Mads Mikkelsen’s performance in Thomas Vinterberg’s scarring drama won him the Best Actor award at Cannes this year and it is an incredible, subtle performance in a powerful, haunting film.
When the daughter of his best friend develops a crush on him and plants a kiss on his lips at the nursery school at which he assists Lucas (Mikkelsen) reprimands her, reminding her that kisses on the lips are only for mummy and daddy. Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), in a moment of upset, brings up a disturbing phrase she has picked up from her older brother and his friends when later questioned by the head teacher. So begins a line of enquiry involving all parents and pupils of the school and a witch hunt commences.
Thomas Vinterberg’s slow-burner is a film that crawls right under your skin. It creates real claustrophobia as the town closes in on Lucas while he seems unwilling to offer up any real defence for himself. It is as though he knows that the story has to runs its course and, as he will have to deal with whatever comes he has decided to do so with grace and strength. This leads to tension in the wonderfully drawn relationship with his son who, coming to live with his father, walks into the centre of this series of accusations and clearly finds it difficult to understand why his father is not doing more to protect himself.
The greatest achievement of Vinterberg’s handling of this drama is the lack of melodrama and hysteria. There are brief flashes of violence but the picture focuses on the more intimate changes in Lucas’ life; the new girlfriend who would like to stand by his side but isn’t really sure how, the best friend whose life is thrown into confusion by the allegations, and the quiet shift in his colleagues’ and neighbours’ attitudes towards him. The greatest thing about this subtlety is the options it gives to both filmmaker and audience. It is impossible to guess where it is heading and even minutes before the end almost anything could happen; although for most of the film you are waiting for something utterly awful to take place.
This ambivalence pervades the film. Although the audience is party to the fact that Lucas is innocent there is still a part that can empathise with the family of the young girl who are informed of the accusation as though the abuse were fact. Some of the most devastating scenes involve the close circle of this family; the elder brother playing with his sister, clearly devastated by what he thinks she has been through; the mother informing the girl that, although her mind won’t let her remember it, the abuse did happen.
Mikkelsen is wonderful as Lucas. His performance is a perfect study of control and dignity as his world caves in. Annika Wedderkopp is also outstanding as Klara. She displays just the right amount of hurt and innocence, leading to some brilliant scenes played out between her and Lucas even while accusations are still at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
The Hunt is a devastating look at a small community rocked by shocking accusations against a much loved member. It takes into account not only the lives of the two families most closely involved but tackles the involvement of the whole town in the issue. Building tension throughout, it really keeps you on the edge of your seat and you may find that you leave with your heart in your mouth. Highly recommended.