A Danish film from Thomas Vinterberg, who is known for his 1998 film ‘Festen’ and whose work has remained in relative obscurity ever since. With this in mind, and the knowledge that this follows the story of a male primary school teacher and his relationship with one of the young girls in his class, a relationship accused of being grossly inappropriate, one might be inclined to think it’s a grab at controversy and sensationalism in order to regain the spotlight. However, this is very much the opposite of the story in ‘Festen’, almost as if the director felt a sense of legitimacy and need to show this dark reality from the other side, and my goodness is it compelling. It has the virtue of successfully allowing us to sympathise with all the characters’ conflicting points of view, and also share in the protagonist’s (played by Mads Mikkelsen, on very fine form) growing sense of outrage and injustice. The title is no doubt also a reference to not only witch hunts in general but also the most infamous among them; those taking place in Salem in the 1690’s as immortalised by Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, which the film has more than a few things in common with.
There’s a nice nod to Mikkelsen’s tell as Le Chiffre in ‘Casino Royale’ (06), but from beginning to end the film remains serious, gripping and never loses its sense of reality, never oversteps into melodrama. It’s good to see a film tackling such horrid issues, indeed it’s most topical in the UK at the moment with the ongoing debacle of the Jimmy Savile investigation, the deceased BBC icon who whilst in the afterlife has been revealed to be a serial sex offender, and the subsequent police investigation, operation Yewtree, continues to uncover more culprits on a weekly basis, prompting the question how had so many high profile people got away with something so terrible for so long. In fact, literally as The Red Dragon types this up from the cosy confines of his cave, Max Clifford, one of the most high profile publicists in the country, has been arrested “on suspicion of sexual offences” as part of the same investigation. Only last month Lord McAlpine, the former Tory treasurer, was falsely insinuated to have been a perpetrator of child abuse after a piece of shoddy journalism went live on BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ programme, such a serious error that the Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle resigned over the affair and the BBC reached a settlement of £185,000 with Mr McAlpine. ‘The Hunt’ may just put that sum into an appropriate context.
As an aside, Vinterberg is one of the co-founders of the Dogme 95 movement along with Lars von Trier, Kristian Levring, and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen. It was founded on the principles of reducing filmmaking to a very raw and accessible level, a tangent to huge budgets and artificial theatricality, and produced enduring films such as the aforementioned ‘Festen’, and von Trier’s ‘The Idiots’ (also from 98). The movement lasted for more or less a decade from its inception in 1995.