Jagten (The Hunt) review

An evil man once said: The greater the lie, the greater the chance that it will be believed.

To say I have been looking forward to “Jagten” is a bit strange. After all, the film deals with quite dark subject matter. Yet I recently rewatched and re-enjoyed “Festen” and was delighted to find that director Vinterberg was back with another look at the dark side of human nature. He co-wrote the screenplay with Tobias  Lindholm, writer of, amongst other things, the hit series “Borgen”.

In “Jagten” a teacher, portrayed excellently bij Mads Mikkelsen, is accused of the worst of all sins: sexual abuse of a young child.

What follows is an acutely observed descent into hell, for all involved. At times I found myself squirming in my seat, which is exactly what this films intends. The willingness of the townsfolk to believe everything that small children profess is both frustrating and totally believable.

This is what makes the movie so deeply fascinating and gripping. There is a frightening sense of inevitability about the way the world of teacher Jacob collapses around him.

A special mention has to go out to Thomas Bo Larson who portrays Jacob’s best friend with believable gravitas and feeling. A true star performance reminiscent of his stint in Festen.

There were really only two weaknesses that I found in the whole movie. First of all when teacher Jacob is first accused, to me his reaction is just too understated. It beggars belief to some extent that he would react more strongly. Secondly, and this is a pet peeve more than anything: Jacob’s teenage son Marcus is too heavily made up in the movie. It’s really odd and distracts from the completely realist feel of the film….

If you are into intense character studies, or just into great serious movies, make sure you catch “Jagten” – known as “The Hunt” in English language markets.

Festen retro review

I’ll keep it short, as do these brilliant Danes. Festen aka “A Celebration” is a cinematic masterpiece. I just watched it again, 14 years after catching it in an Amsterdam cinema.

For those of you who have been hiding under a blanket of Hollywood super hero fodder, “Festen” is a character study of a fictional Danish family with some nasty secrets. The story focuses on the 60th birthday of the pater familias Helge. Son Christian, whose twin sister has recently committed suicide, has something rather different planned than a happy birthday.

Supposedly the main attraction of the film is the infamous dinner speech scene, in which Christian breaks a long silence. And to be fair, it is that visceral yet underplayed moment that I remembered most all those years after first seeing it. Ye,t on revisiting the film, I was amazed at the attention to detail, keen observation of character in the film that builds to that very moment. Indeed the groundworks laid before the great reveal carry the film forward after that moment. The greatest “trick” the film has up its sleeve is the acute observation on the sheer amount of time it takes for the truth of Christian’s speech to sink in with the revelers.

The acting is naturalistic brilliance, the film is film in an intentionally ugly, hand held style that just adds to its voyeuristic appeal. In its time much was made of the fact that the movie was shot according to self imposed “Dogma ’95” rules. Since then, Festen director Vinterberg, Lars von Trier the other Dogma founding members have admitted that Dogma was more of a gimmick that an actual serious idea.

A true masterpiece in every sense of the word. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do: it will open your eyes to European film forever.