Dir. Thomas Vinterberg
With a title (translated from the Danish) as rife with symbolic heft as this, you know it has to factor into the film’s proceedings, but while there are indeed a handful of scenes of men with rifles stalking deer in the woods, the real persecution in the film is of an innocent man, by a mob of terrified parents who used to be his best and oldest friends.
That man is Lucas (Mads Mikkelson), a genial and kind fellow, who works at his local kindergarten, something of a step down from his former teaching gig in a high school which closed. He is also a recent divorcée, desperate to spend more time with his adolescent son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm).
Lucas’ place in the firmament of the town seems well secured. All of his closest friends — and their wives and families — are there, and everyone seems to know and care about everyone else. That is, until Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the young daughter of Lucas’ best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), develops a schoolgirl crush on him. One day at the kindergarten, Klara makes Lucas a gift of a woven heart and tries to kiss him on the lips, an advance the ever kind-hearted man gently refuses and reprimands. Embarrassed and wounded, Klara then tells the kindergarten principal, Grethe (Susse Wold), Lucas touched her inappropriately, bringing into the story certain vivid details taken from a porn photo that her older brother, Torsten (Sebastian Bull Sarning), was looking at with a friend.
Initially somewhat befuddled, Grethe eventually begins a further investigation of the girls’ charges, and, along with another school administrator, inadvertently feed the girl information until they are thoroughly convinced of Lucas’ guilt. Before too long, word gets out, other kids from the kindergarten start making similar claims and Lucas becomes shunned by his aghast friends. In the process, he loses his job, his dog is killed, his girlfriend leaves him, and, worst of all, his son Marcus is barred from seeing him.
Lucas is being forced to endure an almost biblical suffering. A completely innocent man with the best of intentions, he loses nearly everything — including his place in society — simply because of a child’s whim (though it must be said that although Klara is fairly quick to admit she was making up these stories, the adults around her refuse to believe her admission of guilt and convince her it must have happened anyway).
What the film so convincingly creates is a world in which every character has a point. Despite our knowledge of Lucas’ innocence, it’s not at all hard to imagine the thought processes of the horrified parents, especially considering their misconceptions about children (“Kids don’t lie!” Principal Grethe insists, “not about this.”) There is justification for everyone’s reaction — save one, at least — which makes the film that much more relevant and dense.
There is a suggestion that even our strongest bonds are flimsy, a thin layer of plastic stretched over a cable of powder. What we can know about even our closest friends is subject to our paranoia and fear. Out of all of Lucas’ large group of male friends, who congregate every year to mark the beginning of hunting season, only one truly stands by him, never once doubting his innocence. Everyone else is too scared and untrusting, which wounds Lucas more than anything else.
Vinterberg, who along with fellow Dane Lars von Trier, created the Dogme 95 minimalist movement of the ’90s that lured many talented Danish directors of his generation, has opened up his palette a bit — the film opens with a Van Morrison track, for instance, unthinkable under the strict naturalist tenets of the Dogme order — but retains much of the movement’s traditional dramatic understatement and character realism. The result is a powerful and utterly convincing film that won’t soon leave your conscience, especially the ending, which has a twist every bit as wrenching and far-reaching as Bergman’s brilliant Fanny & Alexander.