Well, if a Five Year Old Says It’s True…
Not everyone is into reading subtitles and I get that to some extent, and no, it doesn’t make me or anyone else special, or somehow elitist, because we enjoy the films of nations other than the United States, but if you have yet to experience Danish cinema, you have some work to do, my friend. There are a number of Danish titles that are brilliantly crafted and the country boasts one of the most interesting and intelligent directors that I am aware of in Thomas Vinterberg.
Vinterberg was part of a group of Danish directors, along with a director you may have heard of named Lars Von Trier, who participated in the ‘dogme95’ movement in the year, believe it or not, 1995. For your sake and mine, I won’t try to describe the movement in detail in this post, but do yourself a favour and look it up – maybe even watch a film that falls under its umbrella. They had a manifesto and everything, it’s pretty cool stuff. Vinterberg himself directed what I believe to be the greatest dogme film with Festen (The Celebration) and next caught my attention with the film that I am finally getting around discussing now, Jagten (The Hunt).
Where to start with a film about a man being wrongly accused of sexually abusing a child? I guess that’s as good a place as any. Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a man of few words approaching middle age who works in a kindergarten. He has an estranged wife and son, but manages to find happiness in his work with children. The community that he is a part of is a small, tight-knit town somewhere in Denmark. Everybody knows everybody and looks out for everybody. Vinterberg (who also co-wrote the screenplay) does a fantastic job of establishing a town with quirks and characters, including Lucas’s best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), who is a bit of a drunken fool who fights loudly with his wife, but is loveable nonetheless. Everything is fine and dandy when Lucas’s son, Marcus (great name!) declares that he wants to come and live with his dad and Lucas discovers that his coworker Nadja has a serious thing for him, all in one night! Unfortunately, for Lucas, Theo’s daughter, Klara (an amazing Annika Wedderkopp), has had something rather disturbing happen to her at home due to her careless brother and his friend flashing a pornographic image into her face before laughing and running off. When she mistakes the bond she has with Lucas for one where she can kiss him on the lips and he tells her that it was the wrong thing to do, she gets sort of peeved about this and tells the kindergarten’s administrators that Lucas…revealed himself to her.
Suddenly, Lucas finds himself in a situation where the entire community, the same one that embraced him as a cherished member, shuns him as if he is guilty of the horrible sin he is accused of, without any real proof. The principal of the kindergarten sums it up when she says, “I always believe the children. They don’t lie.”
It’s time for a slight pause here before we move on. I happen to be in a career where I am around children for a large part of the day. I enjoy it for the most part. They are smiley, happy, little things, who are pretty great when they aren’t yelling at the top of their lungs to someone two feet in front of them (that someone is usually me). But here’s one thing I can say about kids – they lie. They lie all the time. Why wouldn’t they lie, they’re kids! Until someone catches a kid in a lie and the kid is disciplined for it and presumably told why lying is a bad thing, lying would come as natural to a kid as eating or sleeping, wouldn’t it? If you could get what you want because everybody believed everything you said, wouldn’t you do it? Sorry to spoil your high opinion of yourself, but you would. Anybody would. If you don’t agree, consult this film (please don’t actually consult that film, I am kidding. It sucks.) Anyway, I think what Vinterberg is getting at is that as adults, especially as parents, we tend to believe that children are innocent simply because they are children. I would love to think that too, but even my own worst memories of childhood, the most embarrassed I ever was, was when I was caught lying. But I can tell you with pretty high certainty that had I not been caught, not only would I not feel bad for lying, I probably wouldn’t even remember having done it. There is some serious social commentary being made here, in a way that isn’t limited to how society can demonize one member based on nothing more than a rumour. Although that’s certainly at play in the narrative as well.
From a technical standpoint, Jagten does not stand out in terms of visual style like Festen might to most people, but that’s because its scenes are so well crafted that one can almost forget that they are watching a film, and rather feel like they are being persecuted themselves. Scenes in which young Klara is lying to the adults, or when Lucas is being given even further bad news about what is being said about him, are so hard to watch. Even during a second viewing I found myself yelling at the people of the town to “stop believing the f***ing five-year old!”, more times than I probably should have. The performances are great all around, from the entrancing Mikkelsen to even the members of the town who only speak once or twice. The atmosphere is dark, accusatory, and completely engrossing.
In closing, and as you may have gathered from the nature of this post, there might be more to be said about the social dynamics at play in the town depicted in the film than anything else. In the Special Features section of the DVD, Vinterberg says he wanted to make a film about family, fatherhood, community, and love. I think he has succeeded in all of those things with this film, but he has also firmly planted in my head the idea that communities, though necessary for a feeling of belonging and survival, can also be very dangerous, that if enough talk is spread, the truth is no longer the truth, but what the truth is perceived to be. Certainly a powerful film and one I recommend watching (and should have watched) with a companion so that you can turn to them and say, “that’s wrong, right? You also see what’s wrong here…right!?”
Believe it or not, this gem is available on Netflix, or at least it was when I wrote this post.
Jeg håber du nyder filmen!
Tense Suspense Commences