The Hunt (Jagten) (London Film Festival review)

The Hunt Jagten green light Mads Mikkelsen

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The mass hysteria surrounding child sexual abuse has never seen as compelling or as cautionary an examination as the tragic mess this riveting Danish film delves into. We know there is no question whatsoever that kindergarten teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen: A Royal Affair) is completely innocent of the accusation lobbed by little Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), who told a lie about something he did as payback for his rebuffing a gift she offered him… a gift he refused, ironically, precisely because accepting it could have been perceived as improper. Director Thomas Vinterberg (who wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm) is startlingly unsentimental about children’s inner lives: kids do lie, kids can be vindictive, though of course Klara has no idea what impact her lie will have, and the sad and lonely child is in fact only reacting to the emotional turmoil in the adults around her: her parents, close friends of Lucas’s, fight all the time, and Lucas had been the one adult whose (completely proper) attention she had been able to count on. (Her lie is fueled by some grownup knowledge she accidentally acquired via her teenaged brother, whose adolescent porn viewing with his friends Klara catches a glimpse of. Which she’s able to do because, it seems, almost everyone around her mostly ignores her.) Yet Vinterberg never lets the response from the other adults to Klara’s accusation get implausibly out of hand, either: other teachers, parents, investigators, all of them have only the best of intentions, even when they inadvertently put ideas into Klara’s head that she could never have had on her own. Maddening frustrations come not from the film, which is masterful — Mikkelsen is heartbreakingly good as kind, gentle Lucas reels from the impact of such a terrible charge — but from the irreconcilable difficulties of the situation, in which the fear of a very real and very awful crime that children do sometimes fall victim to bangs up against the very real and very awful reality of false accusations and the smearing of a good man’s name and character. Vinterberg has no answers, just an admonition not to let fear and worry rule us, coupled with an acknowledgement that in some situations, that is nigh on impossible.

viewed during the 56th BFI London Film Festival

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