This film by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Mads Mikkelsen-most recognisable for his role as Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale- may be set in the build up to and around Christmas but it contains little of the festive cheer or feel-good sentiment usually associated with this season. This however does not diminish its poignancy or its relevance in the wake of the recent allegations concerning Jimmy Savile’s proclivities and the fall out which then ensued including a media storm whipped up into frenzy and series of false accusations levelled at innocent parties by gossip on Twitter and fed fuel by the unlikely source of an avenging wimpy silver haired angel, Philip Schofield. It does however manage because of- rather than despite the lack of- any discernible over sentimentality to emerge as one of the best and most moving films of the year.
Lucas-Mikkelsen- is a recently divorced teacher who having lost his job has taken on a position at a local nursery in the interim. Keeping himself to himself he is engaged in a constant custody battle over his son but befriends his neighbours and in particular their daughter Klara. Whilst her parents seem to be engaged in never ending battles and her teen brother taunts her Klara feels as ostracised from her surroundings as Lucas and as such forms an attachment to him. It is a normal adult/child relationship and he accompanies her to nursery where their bond strengthens and he provides her with the attention she feels she is lacking elsewhere but Klara misreads these signs.
To his credit Lucas is aware of this attachment and when he feels Klara’s actions are becoming inappropriate he rebukes her explaining that certain emotions should only be expressed with family members. Confused and feeling rejected Klara then informs the head teacher- and Lucas’s boss- that Lucas has sexually abused her. Initially wary of believing the claims she eventually relents and calls in someone to investigate further.
What follows is an extremely uncomfortable scene in which after Klara admits nothing actually ever happened and Lucas is innocent sees the two adults questioning her only then to put words into her mouth and construct a story which ensures they are covering their own backs rather than attempting to get at the truth. At the end of the interview Klara is more confused than ever and doesn’t have the ability or knowledge of how to extricate from a situation which is now out of her control. Meanwhile Lucas is suspended from his job and a police investigation follows whilst he finds himself at the centre of a storm and set of snowballing circumstances he likewise has no control over.
What follows is a life spiralling out of control with the whole town turning against Lucas as the word spreads and several other children allegedly also make claims of abuse. The viewer is never in any doubt concerning Lucas’s innocence however and the allegations against him whilst all consistent in their telling also contain the one consistent fatal flaw which should exonerate him. Meanwhile the two central characters at the centre of this maelstrom, Lucas and Klara, are both equally confused, dismayed and horrified at the situation they have found themselves entrenched in. Klara makes several attempts to state she was wrong in her allegations but no-one seems to be listening as it suits their chosen agenda to carry on thinking the worst.
The Hunt is an astounding film which tugs on emotional strings you never knew you had whilst at the same time eliciting shame that in the same circumstances you may too automatically assume the worst and make rash judgments without knowing the facts or caring for the truth. It is extremely relevant to recent events –the children who also make up stories about Lucas bear more than an accidental passing resemblance to the recent trial by Twitter in this country naming an allegedly innocent man- and shows a community whose primary concern is not deriving the truth but instead more interested in covering their own hides and showing the right amount of moral indignation and sense of righteousness considered right in these situations.
Mikkelsn gives a standout performance which is a million miles away from his Bond role and at the films conclusion the events which have recently clouded his life are still in place and a sense of disillusion and confusion still reign supreme in his psyche. It may not be a film to warm the cockles of your heart but it is certainly one which will awaken your senses and hopefully ensure that making swift judgments without being in receipt of the full facts can be just as damaging as the acts they are perhaps being accused of. It is another outstanding contribution to Danish drama which has been galvanised by the TV series The Killing and like its televisual counterpart a certain sense of doubt remains at its conclusion.