Sunday, July 14, 2013
Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a popular kindergarten teacher falsely accused of wrongdoing, in “The Hunt,” the latest film by celebrated Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. As the movie opens, Lucas has recently divorced his wife, who allows him only infrequent visitations with their son, Marcus.
One day, a cute blonde moppet named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) asks him to carry her across the room so that she won’t step on any of the lines. Another afternoon, her mother is late picking her up, and Lucas walks her home, allowing her to play with his dog, Fanny, along the way. Klara begins to “like” Lucas – whatever that means, at her age – and crafts a gift for him: a pink and purple heart. While he’s roughhousing with some of the boys, she sneaks a quick kiss on the lips and leaves the heart in his pocket. When he tells her that she should not kiss him, and should give the heart to one of the boys instead, she becomes angry. She tells the headmistress, Grethe, that Lucas showed her his penis, parroting some language she’d overheard her older brother and his friend throw around after school one day.
Thus does Vinterberg set the stage for two hours of what plays like McMartin Redux. We get all the standard lines: “I believe the children.” “Children don’t lie – not about that.” We get the investigators whose loaded questions aim to reinforce already-arrived-at assumptions. We get ass-covering administrators. We get parents and teachers who turn their backs on a trusted friend and colleague rather than admit any doubt of his guilt. Lucas is exonerated fairly quickly at the judicial level – the repressed-memory industry yielded a village of kids describing details of a basement he doesn’t have -- but soon learns that his life in town is over as he knows it. Essentially, the movie turns into a parade of indignities and threats, of forced removals from supermarkets, of rocks thrown through windows.
I’m right there with Vinterberg politically. Not only justice systems but also modern journalism has willfully abandoned its values, privileging and keeping anonymous the names of sex-crime accusers while the accused – and a more vilifying and stigmatizing accusation could scarcely be made – are thrown to the wolves. Cinematically, though, “The Hunt” sort of has nowhere to go. Just as Ryan Coogler made a fundamentally flawed narrative choice with “Fruitvale Station,” so too has Vinterberg. Because we know Lucas is innocent from the outset, there’s nothing to do the rest of the time but feel sorry for him. Mikkelsen turns in a creditable performance, but young Annika Wedderkopp is the one you’ll remember. She’s a mini-marvel, another European child actress who seems instinctively capable of emotional truthfulness that eludes her American counterparts.