THE HUNT directed and co-written by Thomas Vinterberg and Denmark’s Oscar Entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Award, is a disturbing depiction of how a lie becomes the truth when gossip, doubt and malice are allowed to flourish and ignite a witch-hunt that soon threatens to destroy an innocent man’s life. Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his penetrating portrayal of Lucas, a former school teacher who has been forced to start over having overcome a tough divorce and the loss of his job. Just as things are starting to go his way, his life is shattered when an untruthful remark throws his small community into a collective state of hysteria. As the lie spreads, Lucas is forced to fight a lonely fight for his life and dignity.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you originally come up with the idea for “The Hunt”?
Thomas Vinterberg: Some years ago, back in ‘98, I did a film called “The Celebration”, which is a part of the Dogma movement. It’s a film about a young man who, at his father’s 60th birthday talked about how he had been abused by his father. That made a bit of splash and a lot of people saw that, a lot of attention was paid to it. Many years later, someone knocked on my door in Copenhagen and I opened the door and this child on crutches, and asked me if I did the film “The Celebration”. I told him yes and he said, “Well then, there is another film that you have to do.” And he talked about memories and innocence, and men who were accused of crimes but were innocent, stuff that sounded fascinating. At that point I really did not have the time, so I sort of tucked those files away and looked at them five or seven years later or something, and I was spellbound by what I read and horrified and deeply engaged in these cases that he had given me, similar to what you see on the screen in this film. That is where it all started. I think as a filmmaker your message does not necessarily come from a moral place, but this one did a little bit; I was worried about these children, I think they were victimized, the same way that we talk about children that are victims of sexual offenders. This one was different. If you imagine a little girl or a little boy that gets interrogated several times, then there is the perfect illusion that you are a victim and you grow up to believe that you are a victim, you grow up with the memory that you are a victim, and you can start to create all of these memories that never happened but that have been implanted in your head. Again, the children are victims of something, but it is entirely misunderstood what they are victims of.
Bijan: Although your film looks dark on the surface, there is a bright-side because it shows us a different way to look at the world.
Thomas: I’m glad you said that because I tried hard to make a film about love and friendship in the same way and create a sense of clarity in the end, I couldn’t end the film in a sentimental way because I had to draw the consequences to make a story about the fact that spoken word can never be taken back, there has to be consequences at the end. I had to market that part, but I am glad to see that it came through in the film. We had many screen tests with audiences and every time I watched them as they see the end, they all agreed that he gets a happy future. He is no longer working in kindergartens and he has his son, his girlfriend and a great life hereafter, so you can—by definition—says it is a happy ending.
Bijan: There is a definite sense of universality to your film.
Thomas: Yeah, unfortunately, this kind of story happens all over the world, all the time, particularly in the 90’s. People have become better and the interrogation methods have improved, but it is a very common thing and I will even say that this film is the Airplane version of real life—it will be really, really dirty and the American cases are little bit different than the European cases. Over here, people will take justice in their own hands more, they will bash people and trash their house and ostracize them from the town, but in Europe, it happens more in the courtroom. Also it is a combination of different cases. Also, some the kindergarten teachers send out notes to the parents saying that there might be a case of abuse, so if your child has nightmares or wets the bed or has headaches, there is a chance, your child has been involved. Sometimes you have 20 kids involved and they conclude, well he could not have acted alone because he could not have possibly taken 20 kids, so there has to be more people involved. There was a Norwegian case where 40-something people ended up in prison, including the local sheriff. Sometimes whole societies sink into the ground and into the darkness and never come up again.
Bijan: I am always impressed by the performances of Mads Mikkelsen, and he shines here as well, showing how he can play a variety of roles.
Thomas: Well Mads Mikkelsen is a really profoundly great actor. He is intelligent, devoted, handsome, hardworking and a team player; he is a joy to work with and he deserves every second of his success. Also, he is an actor who has the constant fear of being trapped into only portraying what we expect to see from the actor, and I think here with this film we had an opportunity to reverse that a little bit. He has been playing a lot of characters for a while and here he can go back to playing someone that he used to play in his very early days in Denmark. It shows his ability to expand through lots of different characters and he is just incredibly good.
Bijan: What was it like co-writing the screenplay with your writing partner, Tobias?
Thomas: It was fantastic! We are already working on our next film together. He is a good friend of mine now and it’s a huge pleasure to work with Tobias. We sort of found our way to collaborate and I think we are going to go on doing that for quite a while.
Bijan: When you see the film, it is evident that it is based on a very solid screenplay and also a very strong visual style. How collaborate with the Director of Photography to develop the visual style of the film?
Thomas: You can say that the script and the visual style go hand-in-hand for this film in the sense that we wanted to create certain truthfulness and we tried to achieve that with a film that is about life, it was key to us. We wanted to provide the sense that if the camera wasn’t not there, then these events would have happen anyway. Sometimes we are a little bit too late to the situation, sometimes we are too early, sometimes there is stuff we don’t see—like what happened to the dog and who did lit. Our style was like a documentary in that you can’t calculate everything; it is snippets of life and you have to come up with the rest yourself, that is how we worked with the camera and that is how we worked with Tobias. Also, Tobias and I decided to avoid police and courtrooms. We wanted to avoid playing cat and dog with the artist, whether or not he is guilty or innocent, and we just erased that possibility as much as we could. We wanted to avoid superficial action by staying in the most real and pressure-packed situations. Those were clear decisions we made from the beginning, and that made it quite challenging.
Bijan: I think a good film is like beautiful scenery where you want to see it again and again, and I think “The Hunt” is a film like that.
Thomas : Yes, and I think there is a opportunity to be moved by Mads performance because if you were in doubt over whether or not he did it, then the depth of his character was evident.
Bijan: What do you think are the chances of your film being nominated or even winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film?
Thomas: I have no idea, I can only hope. I have not had the chance to see who I am up against, though I am sure that they are very good films. I am sure that it is going to be difficult, but what I can see here is that people are moved by the film when they see it. That obviously makes me optimistic, but you never know.
Bijan: What is the next project you are working on?
Thomas: I just wrapped a movie four days ago with Carey Mulligan and Fox Searchlight; it is a Hollywood/British film based on a Thomas Harding novel.