Lukas works in a Danish kindergarten, and it’s clear he’s in the right place: When the kids look at him, they see a great big toy.
That’s especially true for 5-year-old Klara, the lonely daughter of Lukas’ best friend, Theo. Klara’s folks fight a lot, and her teenage brother is too busy looking at dirty pictures with his buddies to pay her much attention.
Lukas, though, treats her kindly, and she’s developed a little crush. She spends an afternoon making him a paper heart with glitter. And she’s hurt, in the way that 5-year-olds can be, when he gives it back, suggesting she give it to a boy her age.
So she says something — after school, quietly, not realizing what it means — that she heard her brother say when he was looking at dirty pictures … and she says it about Lukas. And the school’s headmistress, erring on the side of caution, tells Lukas to take a few days off.
The title of the film in which this scenario will play out — Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt — is a play on words. There are characters who have rifles and go hunting, yes. But for Vinterberg, this story is about a witch hunt, an accusation of impropriety that takes on a life of its own, shattering bonds of trust in a close-knit community.
The director makes clear that everyone means well — the headmistress, protective of her students; the parents, trying to shield children from things they shouldn’t know about just yet; the investigators asking questions carefully, trying to see their way through ambiguous answers.
But they’re all talking to and about a 5-year-old. When someone asks Klara if she’s uncomfortable because she doesn’t like what Lukas did to her, she nods yes. But you realize what the investigator doesn’t — that what Lukas did to upset her was return that paper heart.
Mads Mikkelsen, whose Lukas goes through the movie in a sort of defensive crouch, is playing intriguingly against his own image, whether you know him as TV’s Hannibal Lecter (and a 007 villain) or as what Danish audiences have repeatedly voted him — the sexiest romantic lead in Denmark.
He’s playing neither of those extremes here. Lukas, a toy now in the hands of a wanton fate, is just an ordinary man trying to brave the hysteria of The Hunt, realizing that everyone around him smells blood. (Recommended)