Saturday, 26 April 2014

Jagten (2012)

Jagten (The Hunt) is from that subgenre of northern European cinema that looks at the eerie small town and the cruel chaos that courses just under the surface.

In Jagten, we're introduced to Lukas (Mads Mikkelsen), a seemingly upstanding, well-integrated, happy-go-lucky member of an anonymous small, Danish town. Lukas is the local kindergarten teacher, and he's playful, upbeat, and fun. He also has his gang of gruff, grizzly Danish bros, who drink and hunt together, and his biggest stressor - for now - is his arguments with his ex-wife regarding their teenage son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm). Until, of course, Lukas is falsely accused of pedophilia. Then shit really hits the fan.

The film makes it pretty obviously clear that the accusation is false (there are no Rashomony pretentions of, "Well, maaaybe it diiiid happen..." - thank God, really). It has also been foreshadowing, symbolisming, and generally proclaiming the fairly obvious connection between the early scenes of manly deer hunting, and later scenes of the hunt for Lukas. Indeed, the film is fairly heavy-handed in its message: humans are pack animals; they see red when you threaten their young. There's also the seasonal aspect: something reinforced by the film's coda, which seems to hint that Lukas's prey status was a seasonal bloodletting that must happen and may happen again. And it could happen to you! Or whatever.

Honestly, we had high hopes, and they were a little dashed. The acting was, indeed, very fine, and Mads Mikkelsens's Cannes Best Actor win was deserved. We were actually much more impressed by the kids: Lukas's accuser, the dreamy-yet-serious little Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) was an incredible actress and maybe, like, seven? Also, Lasse Fogelstrøm, who played Lukas's teenage son, was soulful and sympathetic. We kinda hoped the film would start to follow his travails, or maybe they could just make a sequel called, Marcus - Kid on the Streets. Because that would be great.

The acting was fine; the cinematography was gorgeous (wow, Denmark); perhaps our beef was with the pacing, and the script. The, well, story. Because the accusation and devolution into pack animal savagery felt artificial. Is this really how kindergartens deal with these types of accusations? By calling in Some Random Dude, having him ask increasingly grisly leading questions while the bewildered kid goes, "Uh, YES." And who were those angry grocers? Why were the grocers so angry? It just felt like, well, because it made good cinema. Especially when the beaten, bloodied Lukas limps out of the store only to - gasp! - be seen by his accusers! CONFLICTING FEELINGS, I SUPPOSE?

Unfortunately, our disbelief was just never properly suspended, and so we eventually started to find things tedious, and fishy, and even silly (the above "martyr limps away" scene being particularly groan-inducing). We counted the minutes for this one to end.

Sorry, Mads!

Also, okay, the film is more about the parents than the kids, but if you want to watch another, better film from the creepy northern European village of cruelty genre that also has the village children turning into a lil' pack o' liars set to destroy the lives of adults, then Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon is much creepier and cooler.