The Hunt

Matt Glasby

Danish writer/director Thomas Vinterberg is known for naturalistic films such as Festen, part of his and Lars von Trier's Dogme experiment. Star Mads Mikkelsen, meanwhile, is famous for crying blood in Casino Royale. In The Hunt, which garnered cautious plaudits at the London Film Festival, they effectively swap places, with Vinterberg adding Hollywood hysterics to an otherwise heartbreakingly ordinary tale, and Mikkelsen giving a performance so quiet and nuanced it's hard to believe he's the same actor.

Down on his luck, and so recently divorced that his dog howls at the mention of his ex's name,  Lucas (Mikkelsen) is a small-town teacher who's been demoted to helping out at the local kindergarten. The children love him, ambushing him on the way to work, particularly little smitten Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larson). One day her brother shows her some porn, making her cry; the next she gives Lucas a love letter and tries to kiss him. “Kissing on the lips is only for mums and dads,” he tells her kindly, but her tiny heart breaks all the same, with what she's seen and what she feels fusing irrevocably in her mind. Next Klara tells her teacher Gerthe (Susse Wold) that she “hates” Lucas because “he has a willy”, and kindly Gerthe starts adding two plus two to make five.

Though she can be no more than six or seven years old, Wedderkopp gives one of the best child performances of the past few decades. Whether refusing to step on the cracks in the pavement or sitting outside in the cold while her parents scream at each other, her face is always wrinkled in thought, as if she can't quite process the events triggered around her. Mikkelsen is the same – even when he's too dumbstruck to take action, he's always thinking. Perhaps that's the secret of great screen acting.

Just as the townfolk – all drunken hunters and their busy-bodying wives – run away with the idea that Lucas must be a paedophile, so too does Vinterberg let the plot cartwheel out of control, heaping Fatal Attraction levels of torment on his poor lead, who gets beaten, abused, even shot at. But while it's easy to pick holes in how quickly Vinterberg fans the flames, you never doubt the central pair's plight. Guilty or not, Lucas's life is ruined, yet Klara still wants to be his friend even as her words are burying him. “It's always assumed that children tell the truth,” says Theo, bringing to mind real-life events where that tragically hasn't been the case. “Unfortunately very often they do.” 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattglasby

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