A nominee for Best Foreign Film at the 2014 Academy Awards, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (or, in its native language, Jagten) is a poignant, pretty, and perfectly paced movie. The plot is simple enough– Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a recently divorced man who works at a kindergarten, is accused of doing something he didn’t. It’s a story that has been shared in lots of different ways in cinema history, and when watching it I couldn’t help but think of some of my favorite, similar films, like The Bad Seed (1956), The White Ribbon (2009), and The Children’s Hour (1961). Each of these films, and Hunt, centers on the impact of a child’s spoken word. What makes Hunt interesting, and perhaps better than these others, is the structure of the film and what Vinterberg chooses to show.
Within 15 minutes, the audience gets to know Lucas, his close group of friends, and learns details about his divorce, his son, his old job. These details are nonchalantly laid out, and suddenly the accusation that ruins his life occurs. Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), a girl who looks like a walking PSA ad (so sad, so blonde), lies to Grethe (Susse Wold), the headmaster of the school, about Lucas. With an hour and 45 minutes left, we get to see the quick crumbling of Lucas’ life.
Typically audiences are shown the interrogation as the ending and leave a film wondering, “What ever happened to that guy?,” though Vinterberg provides the opposite. No official trial is seen but we learn the verdict, and the effects of said verdict unfold, showing us the first month after, and a year after that. Throughout the film there are scenes of Lucas hunting, which, if it weren’t for the gorgeous scenery, would be tacky. They remind viewers, though, that while a man can harm an animal with his gun, a man, even a child, can harm another man simply with words.
The film is composed impeccably. It is shot beautifully, with such a range of depth. Often in film a victim is shot from a higher angle so he seems small, weak, but since Lucas is often surrounded by children he fills the screen– it is an intriguing view. Hunt also employs a playful use of sound, including a rich use of silence. All the while, it’s Christmastime in Denmark, and the movie might as well be a living postcard. I learned a few things about Denmark while watching Hunt: the cold doesn’t phase anyone, the landscape is phenomenal, and everyone is an interior designer on the side. Seriously, in Klara’s house, is that a wall made of logs? Or log wallpaper? I don’t care, it’s perfect.
After seeing the film, some questions remained, such as, “Why is there a woman who speaks English working at the Danish kindergarten?,” “Why did Grethe bring in a seemingly random man and not the police to question Klara?” and “Is Wold the baby of Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep?” Regardless, the film is a nearly flawless one. Phenomenally acted, incredibly shot and written, it’s one that you don’t want to end, even with the subject matter being so dark. How did it not win the Oscar? Well, Italy’s The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) won. I’ve added that to my list.