by Angelo Muredda The Hunt hinges on a misunderstanding, a nasty story born of a child's bruised ego and happily seized by a pack of overeager concern trolls calling themselves adults. But there's a whole other story about misunderstanding to be spun from how the film will surely be received in different quarters as either a devastating portrait of small-town life or a grim black comedy. That one is all on director and Dogme 95 cofounder Thomas Vinterberg. While it's always dicey to ascribe authorial intent, Vinterberg seems to waffle between middlebrow tragedy and scattershot satire not out of some postmodern commitment to walking the edge of irony, but because the script can't really sustain a further push in either direction. That makes The Hunt a provocative film, sure, but also a bit of a lazy one--a conversation starter without much follow-through.
Mads Mikkelson plays Lucas, a separated father and kindergarten volunteer in a small Danish community who finds himself subject to the aforementioned child's scorn. Vinterberg makes it clear--if anything, too clear--that Lucas is innocent, a stand-up guy guilty only of being kind, but once the meddlesome school principal convinces herself that a sexual assault has taken place, she all but releases the hounds on him, going for the parents' groups before she even calls the police. That puts Lucas on the outs of a tight-knit group that drinks together and hunts together, and soon he's the worst kind of pariah, verboten even from grocery shopping, unless he wants to catch a stray fist from the butcher.
Although the obscurity of intent and noncomittal tone make it difficult to suss out the movie's politics, suffice it to say, social conservatives will happily receive the suggestion, never convincingly disputed, that sometimes girls simply make things up because they like you so much. That's an extreme reading, yet it's hard not to at least wander in that direction when the criticism is so broad: What are we to make, for instance, of all the hunting rituals, or the community's unfailing religious observance? Is something rotten in the state of Denmark or just in small, superstitious towns? Interesting questions, I suppose, but ambiguity in itself is not a mark of quality. What's indisputably strong regardless is Mikkelson's wonderful performance; a warm presence but also a flinty one, he brings much-welcome shading to a character who's mostly required to suffer. At least we're willing to suffer with him. Programme: Special Presentation