Film Review: The Hunt
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
In cinemas June 13
We have seen this setup before in New Zealand: a man works as a teacher at an early childhood centre, he’s happy to engage in rough and tumble with the kids, then outlandish allegations of sexual abuse cast him into a maelstrom of police action and exile from friends and colleagues.
Lucas (played by the excellent, sleepy-eyed Mads Mikkelsen) is the Peter Ellis of this gripping Danish drama that recalls the scandalous Christchurch Civic Creche case of 1992.
Things aren’t going well for Lucas: he’s lonely, not least because he’s at war with his ex who wants to exclude him from contact with his 10-year-old son, and he has recently lost his job teaching secondary school kids. But his situation gets immeasurably worse after he befriends five-year-old Klara, whose parents are so engrossed in their own warring lives that they routinely forget to take her to kindergarten or pick her up at the end of the day.
Lucas recognises Klara as a hurt little girl who needs a helping hand, and starts walking her to and from school, and letting her play with his dog Fanny. But when he chides her over a trivial incident that arises out of a crush she has on him, she briefly turns against him and tells a teacher a tale of sexual indecency.
Child protection agencies move in and a moral panic begins, demonstrating just how little hope and justice there is for a hapless, innocent male even if the child tries to retract an allegation.
Mikkelsen won the Best Actor Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his role and Annika Wedderkopp gives an astonishingly assured and understated performance as the troubled Klara. What makes the film so powerful is that both Klara and Lucas excite our sympathy: he for the perilous position he finds himself in and she for the burden she shoulders for having betrayed someone who is kind to her.
The film clearly identifies the heart of the problem as the prevailing belief that children never lie and never make up stories. The Hunt shows what every parent knows: children mostly tell the truth but now and again they will not hesitate to say preposterous things to get themselves out of a spot of bother or to avenge a hurt, real or imagined.