May 23, 2012

Jagten (The Hunt)

Thomas Vinterberg has not made his return to Cannes since 1998, after his classic film Festen (The Celebration aka Dogme #1) won the Jury Prize. However, Jagten (The Hunt) marks his triumphant return to the festival.

This stirring drama tells the story of Lucas, portrayed by the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen, a man whose life is devoted to the children he teaches at the local school. He is a man beloved by his community, although he is dealing with the recent departure of his wife, and the son she took with her. He is beginning to re-establish his life, however, finding a new girlfriend named Nadja (Aexandra Rapaport) and finding support from his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen).

Yet his simple life cannot continue for much longer, as Klara (the adorable Annika Wedderkopp), Theo's young daughter who is one of his students, develops a crush. She attempts to kiss Lucas, who quickly stops her, much to her chagrin. After seeing a profane picture on her brother's iPad, she comes up with a lie that will change Lucas' life forever.

A witch hunt ensues, in which Lucas must fight for his life in order to prove his innocence against little Klara's claims. Even as we are aware of his innocence, the lie spreads through the village and takes over everyone around him. Although Klara is quick in her attempt to retract her lie, her mother, Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing), and the school principal, Grethe (Susse Wold), essentially force Klara to believe that her lie was the truth.

Thus, the film explores the mind of a child, far more malleable and impressionable than the community perceives it to be, so that when other children begin forming their own accusations, we are aware that it is only through the pressure of the adults, seeking some sort of sick, twisted truth that the children begin to believe that they actually were molested. Meanwhile, the mass hysteria continues to build as Lucas becomes an exile. He is constantly harassed and assaulted, his life driven to shambles.

The film was shot in a traditional, social realist manner with mostly diegetic sounds, on location sets and natural lighting, adding to the tension and fear that the film creates. Each moment adds to the fear of mass hysteria, and the realism makes this film extremely believable. Such a tragic existence could happen to anyone, and that is the scariest thing of all.

There was no extra trimmings on this film. Everything was written to build the drama without anything to detract from the purpose of this story. Vinterberg took the downfall of a man and wrapped it in packaging so honest and pure that the narrative created its own tension, without anything to force conflict.

The acting in this film was fantastic, with Mikkelsen leading the way. He captured the pain and confusion of a man falsely accused of such action with a subtlety that made his character the most honest of them all. Wedderkopp also took on a challenging role, which presents an issue such a young girl should not necessarily be made aware of, yet she took the role with poise. Her confusion and distress at the damage she caused, as well as her confusion about the truth played across her face and she captured naivete perfectly.

Overall, the film was amazing, one of my favorite at Cannes. With stunning direction, an extremely tightly woven plot, and incredible acting, I have to give this film an A.

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