The Hunt (2012, Thomas Vinterberg)
When: 14th October 2012
Where: Vue West End
Wow, what a start to this years LFF for us! We had the good fortune to see Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt introduced by the man himself with and a short Q & A afterwards. Anyway, on to the film. The Hunt is set in a rural community in Denmark kitted out with fashionable beards and woolly jumpers, armed with hunting rifles and are a close knit bunch. Our protagonist, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a little down on his luck, he has divorced from his wife Kirsten and hardly sees his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm), living alone in his big house with just his dog Fanny for company. He also recently had to change jobs, now minding children at the local nursery instead of teaching at the secondary school which recently closed. However, Lucas has good friends that help keep him looking to a more positive future. He takes pleasure in looking out for Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), his best friend Theo's (Thomas Bo Larsen) often neglected daughter who regularly wonders off unseen and is continually scared of stepping on the cracks in the pavement. He even has a new love interest, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), one of the workers at the nursery, who is an immigrant and speaks an interesting blend of English and Danish. Lucas finds his son, Marcus will be living with him once school breaks for Christmas, his luck his changing. Then, with one sentence spoken by one person his whole world comes crashing down.
We are shown the set up for the incident, one evening Klara is sat at home and her older brother comes back with his friend showing off the pornography he has captured on his iPad and is intent on showing it to and crudely describing it to his sister. The next day at nursery Klara makes a small heart and a note and leaves it for Lucas. She also comes up to him and kisses him on the lips. Lucas is quick to tell her she should only kiss Mummy and Daddy on the lips and that she should give the heart she has made to one of the boys her own age. Klara denies having made the heart, despite us seeing her making it and signing the card with it "Klara".
Yet again, Klara is the last one to be collected from nursery that evening and whilst Lucas and Nadja are flirting in the kitchen (well she is doing most of the flirting), the head mistress starts talking to Klara and she says that Lucas showed her "his willie" and it was pointing out (much like the pornography her brother showed her the night before). The Head teacher is in a state of shock and over the course of the following day she begins to unravel, offering us the perfect guide in how not to handle a sensitive situation. We also see a "professional" person interview Klara which is tragically shocking to watch and was apparently a slightly amended transcript from a real police investigation.
After the head teacher tells everyone that Lucas is guilty of molesting Klara and possibly other children at the nursery the town turns against him. Her simple reasoning is that children don't lie, why would they? Lucas is shacked up with Nadja in his house, she asks him if he really did it and she jokes about how ridiculous the whole situation is. However, the situation takes a turn for the worse as Lucas begins to realise what it's like to be presumed guilty of paedophilia, one of the crimes with about has high a social stigma you can get. The head teacher called his ex-wife to tell her what "happened", his son finds out and comes to visit him. The emotional situation between Lucas and his ex-wife causes him to get upset and kick Nadja out of the house. His son Marcus goes out to buy him some food but gets kicked out of the super market much to the annoyance of the checkout girl who is more interested in asking him out. As Marcus arrives back at his Dad's house he sees him being arrested by the police but cannot get back in to the house as the spare key under the mat is with someone else (we think Nadja). Left with no option he takes the long walk to his Godfather Brunn's (Lars Ranthe)house. Brunn is somewhat the unifying force of the town. He has the large house and organises the hunts and drinking events for the men. Brunn promises to fulfil his duty as godfather and see what he can do to make sure Lucas is treated fairly (he is the only one who falls down the middle, actually keen to wait to see if there is sustainable evidence against Lucas before making his mind up).
Lucas is released by the police due to lack of evidence in the case (the children described him taking them to his basement, Lucas does not have a basement in his house). Whilst Lucas has been cleared in the eyes of the law, he has not been cleared in the eyes of the townsfolk. Whilst staying with Brunn, the kitchen window is smashed with a rock and his dog Fanny is killed and left out for him to find in a refuse sack. Trying to do something as simple as buying groceries from the supermarket, or attending church on Christmas Eve become like running the gauntlet, especially as Lucas is keen to confront those who stop him going about his business. The situation comes to a head when Lucas confronts Theo at church on Christmas Eve and again later that night at Theo's home. Theo is torn, as he cannot believe both his daughter and his best friend. That Christmas night he goes up to check on Klara and finds her talking in her sleep. She thinks he is Lucas and she apologies for saying what she did and not realising what would happen for making up what she said. Theo's opinion of the situation changes because of what his daughter said without being prompted by anyone and he decides to pay Lucas a visit with food and drink. The two men talk about happier times in their past.
A year passes and there is a large event at Brunn's house. It is time for Marcus to become a man as he is now legally allowed to hunt. Lucas has been accepted back into the community again along with his son. He is back with Nadja as well. Marcus is presented with the family hunting rifle by Brunn to rapturous applause. Lucas is still getting what looks like an odd look from Theo's older son. The next day they are out hunting and Lucas is about to shoot a deer only to find there is someone else there. A shot is fired narrowly missing Lucas who is in line with the deer. Lucas looks back, a real look of dread on his face to see a figure looking back at him. A figure that is masked by the sunlight streaming through the trees. Is he ever truly forgiven?
For me when a film comes out that could have been set any time in the last 50 years I ask one simple question, why now? For me there are a number of easy answers. The central premise of the film is a false accusation made by a trusted person. That accusation is quickly repeated and becomes the truth. Not once are the real facts checked before it's too late. The result is a witch hunt against the falsely accused that almost leads to his demise. For me the film seems to parallel with the way in which social networks are used today, cyber bullying, mischief making and media manipulation. We've seen everything from fake airport bombers on Twitter to fake screws for the iPhone 5 on web forums to the trashed houses of kids who thought they'd invite the entire world to their birthday party via Facebook. You take something small, a comment that is copied and copied and then spirals out of the control of the person who made it. People still trust things seen on the internet, it can often be hard to tell the truth from fiction, just like with children and the consequences for getting this wrong can be tragic. For me this makes The Hunt interesting as the more recent trend in cinema is to deal with the criminals that got away with it, rather than the falsely accused. The best example of this is to compare Vinterberg's earlier film Festen, with The Hunt to see how the director and the world have moved on.
For me the best thing about the drama is how the film manipulates your feelings for Lucas. The film sets us up to feel sorry for him due to his work and family situation. As you watch his reaction to the accusation against him your feelings for him change from sympathy. You wonder if Vinterbeg will flash back to a scene confirming the accusations against him to show you up for rooting for Lucas. You wonder if he will pack up and leave, or perhaps just put a bullet in his head. Instead he fights as best he can and slowly you root for him but always worry that he wont make it to the end of the film.
Just a little end note on the Q & A after the film. Despite the best efforts of the presenter at miss-interpreting the audience's questions and managing to ask some pretty uninteresting ones of her own, Thomas Vinterberg held is own and delivered his answers masterfully. It was shame the Q & A didn't go on for longer as he gave good answers to good questions and I would have been happy to pay extra for my ticket if I knew he was turning up for a proper Q & A.
The Hunt goes on general release in the UK on 30th November 2012