Prominent Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg returns to territory previously tackled in his much-lauded feature Festen (1998) this week with The Hunt (Jagten, 2012), a taught Scandinavian morality tale starring world cinema darling Mads Mikkelsen. Wrongly accused of molesting a young child (also the daughter of his best friend), kindly primary school teacher Lucas (Mikkelsen) becomes the victims of vitriolic persecution from his life-long neighbours who ostracise him from the tightly-knit rural community. To tie-in with the film’s release in UK cinemas this week, CineVue met up with Vinterberg to discuss his latest controversial feature, and why it had taken so long for the director to return to the subject of child abuse.
Joe Walsh: Why did you want to revisit territory that you dealt with previously in Festen with The Hunt?
Thomas Vinterberg: Well, to start with I felt that it was interesting and challenging to make an antithesis to Festen. I read these cases that a psychologist who lives near me dropped off at my house, which I took eight years to read and then needed a psychologist afterwards. I was really fascinated by these stories of false memory, where I could consider the spoken word a virus and that is how I treated it dramatically. But what moves me in the film, (we all see different things in the films), is the loss of innocence and the loss of friendship. I find the relationship between Lucas and the little girl very dear, as well as the friendship with her father. This awakens nostalgia in me. The sexual side of it is attractive because you break into a very private room; but that in turn offers a chance to tell a story about forgiveness.
JW: Why did you specifically want to look at paedophilia and its relationship with guilt?
TV: I was fascinated by the fantasy of children. There is this strange convention that children don‘t lie, but they do. We even encourage them to lie and that is so interesting to me. We implant memory; it is another violation of kids in an effort to protect them. These little girls and boys (from the case files) grow up to believe these memories, and they are complete illusions. They witness crying mothers, arguing fathers, intrusive gynaecologists, in essence they go through absolute hell and they grow up with similar means as to those who went through it for real. That to me is very frightening, and that is again touching on the virus that is the spoken word. If you ask a child a question one too many times then something clicks in their minds and they believe that it has happened.
JW: The film is very submerged in Danish culture, but touches on pertinent issues. Did you want to make the film more universal, or a more culturally-specific tale?
TV: I‘ll put it like this, the core of it, the bones of it, are universal. The cases I read aren‘t Danish, this is something that is happening all over Western society and I am sure it is also happening in Asia. There are many of these cases, but having said that there is life around this plot that is where the heart is. That is what I am about as a filmmaking – the ritualism, the community, going to church.
JW: Did you want to consciously include the role of the church in society?
TV: It is the best scene in my opinion, you have all the people in the one room and you can‘t really throw someone out of a church. It is the one place anyone can go. I really like that scene. That being said, this is very Danish, all these rituals, of course other rituals exist in other cultures as well, but the core of this film everyone can relate to.
JW: The casting must have provided numerous challenges, especially bringing in young children such as Annika Wedderkopp, who plays Klara.
TV: I had other people do that for me. When Annika showed up she was just this sweet little child who saw it like a sport making the film. She saw all the adults being impressed by her and she liked it. In the breaks she would want to go off and do her homework she was carefree. We had to tell her about everything but she didn‘t and should understand the sexual elements of the film.
JW: Was Mads Mikkelsen always your first choice for Lucas?
TV: Definitely. He was always my first choice but we had to get the script together because he doesn‘t attach himself to a film unless there is already a script. Normally I write for specific actors. I totally re-wrote the character with Mads. Previously Lucas was a man of few words and a lot tougher. I wrote it with Robert De Niro in mind, like how he played it in The Deer Hunter (1978). But when Mads got involved it needed to be softer, slightly castrated man. He is such a stallion. I was a bit jealous so I dressed him down a bit- bad hair cut, dodgy glasses.
JW: After the Dogme 95 movement, your career has had a fairly bumpy course. Do you feel that with The Hunt, your career is now back on track?
TV: I felt back on track after Submarino (2010), which was in Berlin two years ago. I felt that I came back to were I was before after some years of exploring some different ways of handling the media, and basically being lost. I had huge success with my graduate film and that carried on all the way up to Festen, which finalised everything that I was good at. I came down a road and I didn‘t know how to do anything better and I was thirty. In a sense that was a bit of a bummer. I felt that I couldn‘t come further, so I have to start over and redefine the whole thing. It was about exploring but it was also destructive. Because I had been so successful it opened some doors. The work I am most proud of is It‘s All About Love (2003), it is my troubled child, but I love it dearly. But it doesn‘t perform well socially.
Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 25 March, 2013. You can read our review of the film here.