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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 The Hunt

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (2012)

The Hunt immediately defaults into the Ďcontroversialí category because itís about child abuse. But itís a much bigger film than that. For a start, there is no child abuse in The Hunt unless you count the disgraceful way the child psychologist interrogates little Klara, the unwitting catalyst for the social destruction of her favourite nursery teacher, Lucas.

With trouble at home, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) has identified Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), who is also best friends with her parents, as a potential substitute dad. When he gently rejects her she gets him back with a mild accusation that becomes perversely amplified by adult anxieties.

Lucas is totally innocent, we are in no doubt, but the community that surrounds him, including his fellow teachers and that psychologist, seem to have some strange need for their fears to be true, as if they are offloading their own vague sense of guilt onto the alleged perpetrator.

Itís one of those rare occasions, which you sometimes get when youíre watching a horror film, when you hope a policeman is going to come along, sort the nonsense out and right the wrong. Then he turns out to be in on it.

In The Hunt the police have a marginal role. They release Lucas, but back into the hostile community. His only sanctuary is among his hunting chums who accept his innocence without question and helpfully arrange legal support.

Itís all a little too convenient. The hunters are led by Bruun (Lars Ranthe), who lives in a big house and appears to be a social notch above the rest of the village. He represents the liberal Guardian readers.

But itís only when Klaraís father Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) realises that Lucas is telling the truth and that his daughter has been forced to cling to her lie, that the innocent man is cleared.

Itís a bit of rollercoaster for Lucas. At the beginning of the film heís lost his school teaching job in the cuts and is battling for custody of his adolescent son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom).

Then, almost in the same moment, he finds a new lover and hears that Marcus wants to come and live with him. The next thing you know everyoneís turned against him, heís beaten up, heís lost his job again, his lover and just about every shred of his humanity as he is exiled from society.

His ultimate redemption takes on a religious flavour. The action jumps forward a year and his physical scars have healed as, it seems, have the social and psychological ones.

There is a charming scene in which Klara, who is going through a protracted childish fear of treading on the cracks in the pavement, is paralysed by the densely tiled floor between her and Lucas, temporarily preventing their reunion. ďThere are so many lines,Ē she says, hinting at the grown-up rules that have been contravened and learned.

Lucas has Marcus, has a job and is in a happy relationship. The Hunt might have closed there. But this is one of a series of false endings in which settlement is yanked out from under you as you fall nightmarishly through the trap doors in so many solid floors.

Marcus has reached the age when he can own a gun, which Bruun presents to him ceremoniously as his ticket to the adult world. He gleefully turns the barrel to the audience and we start feeling a little uncomfortable.

What follows in The Huntís final ending reverberates back through the action, throwing into doubt any happy resolution, splitting open the closure and leaving us emotionally drained.

December 18, 2012

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