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Zettel Film Reviews » The Hunt – Thomas Vinterberg. Flipside to the Jimmy Savile saga.

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The Hunt – Thomas Vinterberg. Flipside to the Jimmy Savile saga.

 

Mads Mikkelsen

 

 

The Hunt – Thomas Vinterber

This sensitive, insightful Danish film is the flipside to the Jimmy Savile saga. A timely warning that the undoubted truth that we should always listen to children, does not, cannot, mean that we must always take everything they say at face value. What this beautifully acted, subtly scripted, impeccably cast little film demonstrates is that first encouraging young children to talk about sexual issues and then sifting the truths of fact and experience from those of the imagination – is a profoundly difficult challenge. It needs a finely tuned sensibility – to young children and their inner lives; and not least to the minefield that is language. Procedurally it almost certainly needs the discipline of relevant professional qualification to protect against the inherent dangers of ‘transference’ – in these cases the redirection of adult fears and emotions onto the child.

Lucas (the excellent Mads Mikkelsen) is an attractive, acrimoniously divorced Primary School teacher; missing his adolescent son Marcus who is reluctantly living with his mother. Lucas’s school has shut down and he is standing in at the local nursery school. As the only man on the staff Lucas is immensely popular with the kids, especially the boys, who love the opportunity he offers as a guy, for a rough and tumble.

Lucas is well established in the village with many long-term friends. He is comfortably included in the macho men’s world of hunting, drinking and rambunctious singing – but this is merely a part of his life, not it’s raison d’etre. Marcus indicates that he wants to come back to live with his father.

Lucas displays a sensitivity to all the children in the school, tempered by a clear sense of the boundaries between teacher and child. His best friends Brun and Agnes’s daughter Klara (a heart-stopping Annika Wedderkopp), perhaps 7/8, goes to the school and loves Lucas’s dog Fanny. Klara is painfully sensitive and shy with that dread, common in children, of stepping on the lines in pavements. Klara’s fear is obsessive: Lucas finds her upset and lost in the town, because she says, she was looking down too much to avoid the lines and so didn’t see where she was going. Lucas, with empathy and insight simply joins forces with her: she to see they avoid the lines; he to see where they are going so they both get home safely.

Klara makes a special message for Lucas which she gives him: then when she sees him at school buried under a pile of mock-fighting noisy kids she rushes to join in and exuberantly kisses him on the lips. Speaking to her privately afterwards, very low key, Lucas just comments that kissing on the lips is only for Mummy and Daddy. When Klara later sees the other children having fun with Lucas she decides she hates him. This is such a noticeable change that the headmistress asks Klara about it. And so Lucas’s nightmare begins.

The narrative drive of the film kicks in. It is tense and disturbing, redolent with with a deep sense of foreboding and a horrified realisation of the inexorable, irreversible logic of what ensues. Potentially a real life tragedy. If one’s child being sexually abused is every parent’s worst fear; it is every man’s, especially a teacher’s nightmare to be falsely accused of abuse: whether unwittingly or maliciously. These fears are an ineradicable part of our modern endemically sexually charged culture and go to the very heart of our relationship with children of course: but crucially, as this richly layered film shows, they alter the balance of all relationships, especially trust within friendship and between partners. The chance exposure of young children through the ubiquity of graphic sexual imagery is a key element in the narrative here.

The Hunt explores the corrosive effect of first suspicion, then doubt and finally disgust this deepest of human aberrations arouses in us. Our response is so visceral and instinctive that it subversively reverses one of our highest principles – that one is innocent until proven guilty. We may be willing to take risks for ourselves: even to a degree, as with sports etc, calculated risks with our children; but the irreversible nature of the harm done to a child forces us to reject even the possibility of a risk where there is even the slightest suspicion of abuse. The tragedy at the heart of The Hunt is that a person not only is guilty until proved innocent: but that in the end there is no such thing as proof. Everyone, the accused, children, parents and friends stand to lose their innocence – and once lost, by definition, it cannot be recovered. The courage and effort required to prevent this asks more of ordinary people and communities than they are usually willing to give.

Wittgenstein said: “the world of the happy is quite another than that of the unhappy…. the world becomes quite another, it so to speak waxes or wanes as a whole.” A random, catastrophically misunderstood moment of time changes Lucas’s world. Forever.

This is a deeply absorbing film which leaves no thread in the complex weave of possibilities in a profoundly disturbing issue, unexamined. It is about trust, friendship, parenthood, and above all else, the fact that real moral issues are not about simple factual questions of right and wrong; but about perplexing human judgements based more upon one’s deepest beliefs and faith; not what we know or can be proven – and our courage to live up to them in the most challenging of circumstances. That Lucas retains the trust and faith of some but not others is both encouraging and dispiriting at the same time. Especially as one can so easily understand those who can’t resist their fears.

The instinctive manliness of hunting and coming of age marked by owning one’s first rifle provides the contextual thread that gives us the title and provides the dramatic coda to the film. This leaves me completely cold but in no way detracts from the main narrative of the film.

Sadly far too few people are likely to see The Hunt and many will be unwilling even to acknowledge the dilemmas it poses. At its worst this toxic attitude of willful ignorance leads to such madness as stoning the house of a Paediatrician.

A moving, deeply felt, accomplished film; beautifully shot, unobtrusively edited and with moments of almost unbearable tension and exquisite vulnerability. Please don’t miss it if you can help it.

 

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