It’s amazing what a nomination can do for a film, isn’t it? After the announcements of the nominees for the 86th Academy Awards, I took to Netflix to see how many of the documentary and foreign language films were available on their streaming service. One film I came across was the foreign language film nominee from Denmark, The Hunt.
I cannot attest to The Hunt’s worthiness as an Oscar nominee, especially with films like France’s Blue is the Warmest Color and Iran’s The Past being left off the list. What I can attest to, though, is the overall power and sensitivity of The Hunt. As directed by Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt is a film about the blind spots we have when it comes to our children, and how this reveals a fear which prompts our darkest natures.
We are introduced to Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a man trying to rebuild his life in the aftermath of a horrible divorce. He teaches at a local kindergarten, lives in a shitty one bedroom townhome, and has a Catch-22 relationship with his ex-wife as it relates to contacting his son. The only real joys of his life are playing with the kids at school, hanging out with his hunting buddies, and persuing a relationship with another of the teachers. Lucas’s world falls apart, though, one day when an accusation about sexual propriety is made by his best friend’s daughter at school. The belief that “children don’t lie, not about that” becomes the lynchpin upon which the rest of the drama unfolds.
Even though Vinterberg’s film makes it crystal clear that Lucas is wrongly accused, the film never completely vilifies the people in his community. They are definitely acting in what they perceive are the best interests of the children. The story could have very easily dived right into Crucible territory by exposing the hypocrisy and blind foolishness of this community, but there is a real attempt, especially through the character of Lucas’s best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), to shine a light on the deep sadness which pervades situations such as these after all the anger burns out.
The performance of Mads Mikkelsen is quite understated. He never overplays the moments when his righteous anger is justified. He has created a character in Lucas who has become accustomed to life dealing his a shitty hand beyond his control, but refuses to back down and accept defeat. This is what makes the ending of the film – which involves a rite of passage for his son during hunting season – so satisfying.
I don’t know if The Hunt is one of the top five foreign films of the year – hell, the Academy’s voting process as it relates to foreign films is significantly different than it is in the other branches, so it may not have even received a nomination on merit alone. What I do know is that it is an excellent film that takes a controversial topic – child sexual abuse – and handles it is a compassionate, human way.