Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: THE HUNT

We have responsibilities and Responsibility. If we shirk the former we're anything from idle and uncaring to criminal. If we violate the latter we'd better have some serious safety netting on hand as the lies can only do so much holding. If we violate it as children because our emotional wounds hurt more than our sense of propriety then correction might be out of our power: grown ups who believe the initial lie are going to resist the truth. We protect our kids.

Small town Denmark. Kindergarten teacher Lucas is accused by a child of sexual abuse. His friendships and effortless popularity drain like bathwater and he is left in a constant shiver. If he cannot reclaim any of his former status can he at least continue to live among his own when their genuine honest concern has festered into a shaking vengeance?

Director and co-writer Thomas Vinterberg exercises great care here. If there are lines that can be crossed without ill consequence (Lucas assists a child's toileting) they must be shown in contrast to other cases where it is a child who makes the crossing. The elements of the lie that young Klara tells the head teacher are clearly shown to us so that their reconstruction in warped form appears both credible and heart rending.

Vinterberg was co-architect of the Dogme95 manifesto which sought to bring cinema back to its basics. Dogme #1 was Vintenberg's Festen which remains for me the strongest of the bunch. He later made the lead-handed Dear Wendy which was a kind of attempt at comprehending the Columbine massacres of its recent history. That was hampered by its higher production values' imposition on what might have worked in the starker Dogme approach and I had to remind myself that this was the same filmmaker who in Festen had created a  moment of genuine eerieness with a few lines of dialogue and the sound of a dripping tap in the next room.

While The Hunt is not quite plain in style it is determinedly pragmatic about its cinematic responsibilities. The colours and sounds of nature and the seasons and the sensations of Christmas and the hunting of deer provide solid heft to keep aloft what might crash as overly stark melodrama. Mostly, though, Vintenberg has placed a heavy reliance on performance. It is in the performance that this film may strut its stuff.

Mads Mikkelsen, in most of the scenes of the running time, is in more ways than one, the piece's centre of gravity. He's already carrying some weight in the form of an acrimonious custody contest with his ex for care of their son. When he sees Klara lost outside the local shops we see his concern but also the inconvenience of it. When he later returns her love gift and gently instructs her about boundaries he looks like he has done it before. After the lie, the suspicion and the hate he contains the fury of his innocence and is borne, though with pain, by the dignity this affords him. When pushed too far his response is considered and controlled and the more resonant for its contrast with the brutality he has suffered.

It's Mikkelsen's power as an actor to keep this extraordinary character from being a no-cred superman. No saint, he does not suffer in silence. No vigilante, his actions have no fatal intention. He cannot live under the revulsion of his community and his actions to break it are the results of difficult thinking. His simple gait as a popular man, natural and fluent as the stag and deer he hunts, is reduced to the cautious stepping of the dog we have seen him calm. Seldom have I seen such high cheeked handsomeness and physical confidence used so effectively against itself as here.

This performance effectively distracts from the heightened playing (rather than over acting) of key characters around him whose anger must inform and shape his bearing. This is where Vinterberg has grown as a director. His sense of balance here serves him more precisely than it ever has. He's already done so much here to understate his style and push the overall approach. This is genuine craft. The upset that Lucas dares in the church is not the only redemption going on here: Vinterberg has freed himself of the feyness of Dear Wendy. We are all better for this.

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