A community slides into mass hysteria after accusations of child molesting surface. But instead of a full-blown witch-hunt or courtroom drama story we’re treated to a cool-headed and transfixing tale of a life coming undone by Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg.
Vinterberg co-founded Dogme 95 along with Lars Von Trier and several others. He’s the brain behind “The Celebration,” having written and directed the 1998 feature film which came to embody the nascent film movement (but it was “Europa” which launched Dogme). Vinterberg’s recent and tragic tale of self-destruction “Submarino” received a nomination at the Berlinale in 2010.
When little Karla grows closer to her kindergarten teacher Lukas (Mads Mikkelsen) it’s not hard to see why. Her parents fight bitterly and more years than she probably cares to count separate her from her older brother, a teen who prefers to watch porn on his iPad rather than pal around with his younger sister.
In fact Karla gets a little mixed up by all the rancor between her parents–she’s ignored to often. One day at kindergarten she plants a kiss on the lips of Lukas, a proxy parent of her choosing. He softly tells her that “this sort of thing is reserved for parents only.”
The strengths of the two hour-long “Jagten,” which translated into Danish means “The Hunt,” serve to highlight what’s missing in filmmaking today: sober, effectively-composed scenes shot from afar, absent the hand-carried, shaky images which tire the eyes and drain the mind; no terrifyingly close close-ups or the gooey sentimentality we get regularly served up here; not just Vinterberg, but European filmmakers in general, are able to show strong emotion without attempting manipulation so why can’t we?
When her brother jubilantly shows Karla an image of an erect penis, it sets off a perfect storm in her, fueled by her cry for attention and resentment. Her imagination doing the rest she drops a couple of key made-up details during a conversation with the principal.
Vinterberg tells his story in chronological order, sequences and images finding a rhythm of their own, just like the story borne out of a little girl’s lies and which travels from household to household, the market and to the teachers’ break room.
Nothing is superfluous in a great movie like this one. Suspense builds gradually and there’s a lot at stake. Vinterberg keeps the story fresh until the very end.
I had gotten to the screening room late and sat at the end of a row, in an unpadded, foldable seat. Soon enough the chair next to me became free but I did not notice. Toward the end of “Jagten” I realized that I had been sitting on a hard surface all along when I could’ve sat in the good seat. That’s how absorbing “Jagten” was.