Children have vivid imaginations. And adults have their suspicions and fears, their foregone conclusions. In The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg's sad and sobering parable, a little girl's lie ripples across a community, throwing a man into a nightmare of false accusations and despair.
With echoes of the Danish filmmaker's 1998 drama The Celebration (a family reunion, allegations of sexual abuse), Vinterberg's new film won its star, Mads Mikkelsen, the award for best actor at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. And it is a great performance: As Lucas, a soft-spoken kindergarten teacher adored by the kids - and by his own teenage son (Lasse Fogelstrøm), who lives with his mother after his parents divorced - Mikkelsen presents a complex character whose naivete is both part of his charm and his undoing.
When his best friend's daughter, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), suggests to the school's head that Lucas has behaved inappropriately to her, the wheels are set in motion. A child psychologist asks leading questions, Klara nods her head affirmatively, Lucas is dismissed, the police are called in - and, suddenly, this man, who had been entrusted with the town's youth, is seen as a deviant, a predator.
The Hunt offers a powerful, provocative study of mob mentality and the fabric of trust. Lucas' lover, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), tries to stand by him, even as he angrily accuses her of doubting him. His son continues to believe in his father, and is ostracized for doing so.
The Hunt has a stark Scandinavian sense of morality about it, and a brutal view of humankind and how quickly "civilization" can devolve. Klara's motivations are a tricky thing, and you may wish that Vinterberg had avoided going for the obvious (but perhaps inevitable) act of supposed retribution.
And the ending? Discuss among yourselves.
The Hunt *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. With Mads Mikkelsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Alexandra Rapaport, and Lasse Fogelstrøm. In Danish with subtitles. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 51 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, nudity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz East