“The Hunt” is the latest unflinching drama from Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg. Co-written with Tobias Lindholm, this is an ambitious star vehicle for legendary actor Mads Mikkelsen, an icon in Denmark and familiar face around the world as well. He plays Lucas, a small-town kindergarten teacher. At its heart the story is ultimately a powerful comment on prejudice, based on true incidents, that may leave you emotionally drained but truly moved.
To delve into the plot here would reveal too much. So I’ll just say that the film is quite dark and deals with some very difficult subject matter that can be very hard to watch at times. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to be more aware of the details by looking up a basic synopsis.
This is essentially a one-man show. While supporting cast members are all up to the challenge, Lucas is on on screen virtually every moment of the movie and its overall success rises or falls on his believability. Mikkelsen’s delicately underplayed characterization of a man under fire likely won’t be appreciated or understood by all viewers. His restrained performance is remarkable and does much to make The Hunt a haunting, memorable experience. Among the children, Annika Wedderkopp’s portrayal of Klara is frighteningly brilliant. She steals every scene she’s in.
The physical beauty of the production belies the ugliness beneath. Natural lighting is used to match the heights and depths of the kindergarten children’s emotions. Their innocence is reflected in its intensity. When surrounded by love, they are glowing. The color palette is warm and inviting. As fear rises, they appear in shadow. The tableau turns increasingly darker as the narrative does.
This is a very quiet and thoughtful experience in many ways. Nikolaj Egelund’s score is sparse. Editors Janus Billeskov Jansen and Anne Østerud keep the pace measured and deliberate. The focus is on the story. Long takes without dialogue are quite effective as so much is said in the eyes, in the faces, of Lucas, the kids, and townsfolk. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen allows the lush landscape of the Danish countryside to lull the viewer into a sense of peace, in contrast with the turmoil just under the surface, ready to jump out like a demon in a horror film. But these are real life nightmares, not the product of a genre writer’s imagination, which chill to the bone.
Hollywood could never touch this subject and have anywhere near the impact. Backed independently by Swedish and Danish production companies, director Vinterberg actually intended to set and shoot the picture in Canada but better tax incentives and financing led him back to his native country of Denmark. It doesn’t matter, though. This is the kind of isolated little village that can be found anywhere in the world.
“The Hunt” was easily the saddest film I’ve seen all year but in a cathartic way that only a great work of art can accomplish. It’s a gritty and hard-hitting statement on our judgmental society that pulls no punches in its recounting of a controversial ripped-from-the-headlines story, repeated all too often in recent history, that’s both poignant and polarizing in its authenticity.
It was difficult for me to hold back tears during the screening. I broke down several times. Many will be touched by certain scenes more than others, but “The Hunt” is one of the most affecting and emotional films I’ve ever seen and one of the best of 2012.