The Danish psychological drama “The Hunt”, that just screened at the 25th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, is on a hunt of its own – to nab the Academy Award Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscar ceremonies – and it has a good chance. Danish actor Mads Mikklesen, is one of the reasons for its chance to score a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Child sexual abuse is a particularly distasteful and disturbing activity, and one that has been radio active as a subject in movies for years. Undaunted by the hot button subject matter, Director Thomas Vinterberg, and writer Tobias Lindholm, have fashioned a gripping film that examines the collateral damage that occurs when communities make rush to judgment decisions. For Southern California audiences, the film resonates (if one is old enough) and is reminiscent of the notoriety and charges of the 1980’s infamous “McMartin preschool sexual abuse scandal” that went on for four long years.
In “The Hunt”, Danish star Mads Mikkelsen (Lucas), delivers a very strong performance of a man and a father wrongly accused of having had a sexual encounter with young seven year-old Klara, the child of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), at the school where he works as a kindergarten teacher.
The nightmare for Lucas begins when young Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) is overheard muttering words of an explicit sexual nature by Susse Wold, the school principal. These mutterings set off alarm bells for the protective teacher. After questioning young Klara she hastily contacts a school official, and both decide to inform the police and the parents of the other children as a way of protecting all of the children.
Lucas is not informed of their action and the school’s principal refuses to tell Lucas why he has been advised to take a leave from his duties at the school. Gossip is the handmaiden of the ignorant thus allowing hysteria to fill the void. It doesn’t take long for the community to brand Lucas a predator and a danger to the school and the community, with the result being that total disengagement and ostracism is the community’s answer.
Lucas as the divorced father of teenaged son Marcus (Lasse Folgelstrom), who all live in same small town, must try to understand what and why this is taking place. To help, Lucas’ new girlfriend Nadia (Alexandra Rapaport) moves in with him, as a way of keeping his life going. There are a series of confrontations with local merchants and townspeople that turn ugly and physical, as Lucas try’s to put his life back in order. There are changes that occur in him as well. He becomes more confrontational and during the Christmas Eve church services, he goes on a rant proclaiming his innocence to the congregation, and directly to Theo. Theo is touched by Lucas and forgives him, realizing that Lucas is telling the truth. But the townspeople are not as eager to forgive as Theo. Fear and uncertainty are emotions that run deep in the community, and once experienced, they are loathed to go away.
The final sequence of the film takes place one year later, and it appears all is forgiven, and the tight little community is back to normal. During an all male community bonding ritual called “the hunting party”, Marcus prepares to be initiated. It’s a rite of passage. He must go into the forest alone to hunt and shoot a deer. Lucas also takes part in the hunt but not with Marcus. He goes off by himself to hunt. Suddenly, a rifle shot rings out and a bullet slams into the tree trunk next to Lucas’ head. He turns to look, but the shooter is too far away to be identified. But, to Lucas, the inference is crystal clear.
Director Vinterberg and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen have rendered a disturbing film subject in an honest and truthful manner, and performed by a uniformly solid support cast. “The Hunt” will be released in selected cities the United this year.