In 1995, Danish filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg released their infamous Dogme Manifesto, an artistic ‘vow of chastity’ designed (it was claimed) to cut away the layers of artifice they believed had grown, barnacle-like, upon the body of cinema. As if to prove their point, the very first Dogme film, Vinterberg’s The Celebration (Festen), subsequently won the Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
Fifteen years and several dozen films later, the Manifesto has, by and large, gone by the wayside. Neither Von Trier nor Vinterberg attach the Dogme label to their work; indeed, Von Trier seems now to be more interested in exploring the artificiality of cinema (see, for example, 2011’s Melancholia) than in abiding by the extremely strict and somewhat puckish rules (‘the film must not contain superficial action’) he and Vinterberg cooked up one long ago afternoon.
As for Vinterberg, his post-Festen career has been somewhat chequered. His English language feature It’s All About Love (2003) was a well-made but ridiculously pretentious blend of science fiction and romance, while 2004’s Dear Wendy was an ambitious but flawed attempt to understand American gun culture (something many of us will never comprehend). Neither were, stylistically or officially, Dogme films, and neither did well critically or financially.
With The Hunt (Jagten, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, July 26), however, Vinterberg is suddenly and surprisingly back on track. Perhaps its mere coincidence that the film examines material similar to that of The Celebration, but regardless, it’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year – and if it doesn’t at least earn a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at next year’s Oscars (assuming its eligible: I don’t claim to be an expert on the Academy’s rules), I’ll eat my hat, or whatever other millinery is closest to hand.
I’m going to dispense with my usual plot synopsis, because a synopsis simply won’t do The Hunt justice. I will simply say that the story revolves around some very serious accusations, and the effect they have on the accused (a kindergarten teacher played by Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen) and his family, friends, students, and colleagues. The subject matter has been dealt with before on film, but rarely if ever with such subtlety, sensitivity and empathy.
Written by Vinterberg and A Hijacking’s Tobias Lindholm and beautifully shot in autumnal hues by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, The Hunt features exceptional performances from Mikkelsen and Annika Wedderkop, a five-year old with the best nose twitch since Elizabeth Montgomery. Nikolaj Egelund’s minimalist score (strictly a Dogme no-no) quietly but emphatically bolsters the proceedings.
Considered in context with the writer-director’s shattering screenplay for The Celebration, it would be easy to believe The Hunt was based on personal experience, but such, apparently, is not the case: according to this interview, Vinterberg regards the film as an artistic counterpoint to his earlier effort. Whatever the case may be, The Hunt is a remarkable film. You may not enjoy it, but go and see it anyway.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more Big Screen Berkeley reviews here.
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