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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.02.12] Denmark thriller drama

The cost of a lie isn't always apparent. Sometimes the lies are small, meant to avoid confrontation but other times, they're meant to wound. In the case of the lie at the centre of The Hunt, it's meant to hurt thought they're also the words of a sad five year old who doesn't quiet understand why her teacher has rejected her gift and her kiss or what the implications of her accusation will be.

The accused is Lucas, (Mads Mikkelsen) a teacher who works at the local school helping out with the kids while fighting his ex-wife for custody of his teenage son but his quiet life is turned upside down when Klara tells Grethe, the principal, that she saw Lucas naked. In what seems a moment of panic, Grethe takes Klara at her word and sets into motion a series of events that can only be described as a witch hunt. In the span of a few weeks the entire town knows about the claim and more children are coming forward, someone has called Lucas' ex-wife and filled her in on the details and Lucas is no longer welcome anywhere in town. All of this from the claims of a little girl.

It's not fair to simply blame Klara for the wrongful accusation. She's a child with little power in an adult world and at every turn the adults lead her into the answers they want to hear rather than the truth. Vinterberg's script, which he co-wrote with R (review) co-director Tobias Lindholm, doesn't simply focus on the outcome of the allegation but how it grows to the point where Lucas is fearing for his life. The Hunt beautifully plays back and forth between Lucas' struggle to make sense of the situation and the rest of the town who seem convinced of his guilt.

The Hunt isn't simply interested in the downfall of an individual but also in the group mentality associated with accusation. What does it say about society that we're willing to hang a man on the accusations of a small child? What's worse, what if we don't take action and the child is telling the truth? Perhaps most interestingly is the idea that some accusations can never be undone. In the end, Lucas is acquitted of the charges but to some, that's not enough to clear Lucas of wrongdoing and in a brilliant closing scene that elevates an already fantastic movie into unforgettable territory, we see that some have not and will never forgive.

It would be easy enough to chalk up The Hunt to a story of a wrongly accused man trying to clear his name because Vinterberg's film provides so much more than that. There's the fact that Klara is his best friend's daughter, the fact that Lucas has a girl friend who sticks by him through the toughest times, how Lucas' son deals with the situation not to mention how Lucas himself deals with his disintegrating life; these could all be passing fancies but in Vinterberg's hands they're all smaller pieces of a much bigger puzzle.

At times The Hunt is a frustrating watch, there's nothing worse than seeing a miscarriage of justice and being unable to do anything about it, but that frustration is part of what makes the film so effective: we feel like part of the proceedings, helpless bystanders unable to help a man in need. It's a spectacular achievement that marks the return of Vinterberg.

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