★★★★ / ★★★★
Still reeling from divorce, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a former teacher, moved back to the small town he grew up in and has found a job as a kindergarten aide. All is relatively well considering his situation: there is a possibility that Lucas’ son (Lasse Fogelstrøm) might eventually come to live with him and there is a fellow aide (Alexandra Rapaport) who wants to get to know him outside of work. However, when one of the students, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), tells the lead staff that—essentially—she has been sexually molested by Lucas, the close-knit community turns against the man they thought they knew and loved.
If this film had been a lesser screenplay, the story would have revolved around the issue of whether or not the main character had touched the little girl. By providing us enough evidence that Lucas is likely to be innocent, the material has more time to focus on a more important issue: the way a community responds to an accusation and how word-of-mouth twists, bends, and distorts reality. “Jagten,” written by Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg, is fascinating because it is about real people responding to a real issue.
I was able to relate to the film on several levels because I have worked with children. Prior to starting the job, the city ensures that one is aware of the dangers of working with minors, how one should respond if a child talks about certain transgressions, and what should be done if a situation does occur. Fact: Minors can initiate inappropriate behavior. Pages of packets are handed out to be read and signed. Does this mean one is ready for the responsibility just because the paperwork has been put away? This is why I was fascinated with one particular supporting character, Grethe (Susse Wold), the lead staff in the facility.
I admired how the material is willing to show people being flawed. It is easy to blame Grethe for handling the situation poorly. After all, isn’t she supposed to be a professional? But dealing with a sensitive situation—attempting to protect the children but at the same time trying not to judge her co-worker without enough evidence or time to think things through—it is tougher than it looks. It is without a doubt that her weak leadership makes everything that much worse for Lucas, but I think the character is very relevant in that a lot of people do succumb to the panic and tough responsibilities when things get rough. It is not only Grethe who makes terrible miscalculations.
To cast Mikkelsen in the role is a smart decision. Collectively, his face, stance, and presence oozes villainy. Though there is no evidence of child molestation, sometimes I wondered, “But what if he really did it?” Here, we empathize with the character. Mikkelsen does not reduce Lucas into a wilting thing when the community tries to get rid of him. He summons an increasing silent rage, mixed with the right amount of disappointment and sadness, which culminates in two scenes: inside a supermarket and a church.
It takes an interesting detour. At some point, Lucas’ son, Marcus, drops by for a visit. He gets to experience and understand what his father deals with on an every day basis: the “sin” of the father is bore by the son. I liked how the father-son relationship is depicted. Although there are not many scenes that show just the two of them together, they make an impact. We get a feeling that they do love one another. When the other is hurt, the other bears some of the pain—sometimes it is even amplified.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, “The Hunt” is a very human story but the title may not suggest that—at least at first glance. It implies that the hunt is an animal to be shot, cooked, and shared. It is the perfect title because once the accusation is out there, Lucas is no longer a man in the eyes of the community. To them, he has become an animal—a predator—and animals are treated as less than.