“A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.”
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Alexandra Rapaport, Annika Wedderkopp
The recent (and by recent, I mean the last half a dozen years) crop of breakout Scandinavian successes on both the large and small screens may have gone some way to highlighting the talents of Thomas Vinterberg. It could be claimed that without them, then ‘The Hunt’, or ‘Jagten’ to give it its’ native title would probably have never received the attention it really deserves.
Nominated for a BAFTA this year, The Hunt tells the story of a recently separated man trying to put his life back together, just before it falls apart completely. He teaches at the local kindergarten and spends his free time generally being a nice bloke and trying to convince his now estranged wife to let their son come and live with him, because that is what his son wants.
And it seems that just as everything is coming back into place from a previously grey and lonely existence, a revelation occurs that will change everything. And not for the better.
Vinterberg dresses his scenes in domesticity. He tells the story of everyday in clipped snippets of the ordinary, be it washing dishes or walking to school, a drawn stare from the imagination of a young child in the crisp Danish November morning. All of his touches are deft with framing that highlights the general day-to-day business of getting through life with as little fuss as possible. His characters are, on the surface at least, amiable, open, honest and accommodating.
This might make the film sound pedestrian or slow, but this is not the case. If you go into the film with as much as a clue about the content, then you will find yourself concentrating very hard on the minutiae of delivery and direction, the merest hint of a look or reaction by the characters will speak volumes to an audience that has come to expect great things from cinema from this region in recent years. Perhaps this is because the story is understated, the direction slight and the script deceptively sparse, yet still alluring. Nevertheless, there is heavyweight film-making chops going on in the background and it is immediately recognisable from the very beginning.
Investigate a little further and you will discover that our lead character Lucas, played here by Mads Mikkelsen, is maybe not quite as shy and retiring as we would at first imagine. In the company of the other men of the town, most notably on the eponymous hunt, where children become men and men become children, he can be as boorish and as much of a roustabout as any man. This seems at odds with his other more mellow half, which is considered and thoughtful.
This should not deviate opinion from the facts of the matter as they are plotted here, however. We have an apparently innocent man accused of a crime that becomes, rightly or wrongly, common knowledge amongst the small community to which he was only recently a welcomed member, which has disastrous consequences for him and all of those closest to him.
Vinterberg chooses carefully on examining those lives affected by the events that take place and these may not be the ones that you would at first imagine. Naturally, the life of Lucas, sacked from his job, shunned by his friends and ostracised by the community almost in entirety comes under the closest scruitiny. His relationship with his best friend, the unannounced arrival of his son and the fleeting dalliance he has at romance with his girlfriend, prior to her admission of confusion with regards to his guilt, all laden his already troubled mind with spades of pressure from which he can only crack over time.
Mikkelsen is undoubtedly one of today’s finest male leads in any production and this highly demanding role would have been difficult to pull off for anyone less able than he. His Lucas is affable, but slightly more paranoid than would be expected under usual circumstances, but when the news comes of his almost certain guilt, he is sometimes resolute , but also sometimes restrained. Altogether he gives a compelling and riveting performance at the heart of this piece, even if the direction would have him acting against type on occasion. Would it be that Lucas were a little more consistent in the company of men as well as children, then it may have been just a touch more convincing.
Regardless, The Hunt continues the impressive list of productions from Scandinavia in recent years and amplifies the skillset of Thomas Vinterberg who will doubtlessly go on to greater things, which he thoroughly deserves. The Hunt is often infuriating for the viewer, as they become so engrossed in the film and the luckless plight of its main character, that it wouldn’t beggar belief to find the audience on their feet, shouting acrimoniously at the seemingly blinkered town’s inhabitants.
Both thought-provoking and incendiary, not to mention a little bit unpleasant to watch at times, The Hunt is seriously recommended viewing.