Posted by martinteller on August 6, 2013
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a divorced kindergarten teacher who doesn’t get enough time with his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm). One of his pupils is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of his best friend and hunting partner Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). Klara has a little crush on Lucas, and when he repels her childish advances, she tells the principal (Susse Wold) that he exposed himself to her. Lucas’s world is soon shattered as the allegations take hold, with only Marcus and the boy’s godfather Bruun (Lars Ranthe) on his side. Even his girlfriend Nadja (Alexandra Rappaport) expresses some doubts about his innocence.
Director Thomas Vinterberg first came to my attention with the acerbic family drama The Celebration. Like that film — and those of fellow Dogme95 Dane Lars Von Trier — this story takes on issues of justice and injustice, Though his antagonists are presented in such a way that one can understand their motivations and actions, Lucas never gets a fair shake until significant damage has already been done. It is unfortunate that in our society we have to be on such high alert for sexual predators, but that’s the way of the world today, and it places us in the mindset that the word of a child takes precedence over due process.
It’s provocative material. William Wyler tackled similar subject matter in his adaptation of the play The Children’s Hour. Although that film has some fine qualities, especially the performances by Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine, here the situation is more nuanced… and less crippled by the necessary innuendo of the time. Klara is not a petulant brat seeking revenge, but a confused child whose attempts to come clean are thwarted by her paranoid elders. Indeed, the movie really has no villains. There are lapses in judgment to be sure, some of them quite severe, but they are not malicious or wholly unreasonable. The most savage acts are committed by unseen characters, faceless representations of mob mentality.
Throughout, Mikkelsen acquits himself quite nicely, As Lucas, he tries in vain to maintain his dignity in the face of such shocking accusations and venom from his community. Vinterberg makes a wise decision in establishing his innocence upfront, eschewing narrative games of “Did he or didn’t he?” Because we know he didn’t, we are allowed to share in the righteous anger of the film without distractions. But again, the anger has a complexity to it as we understand how slippery the slope is.
Besides a bit of stacking the deck (a problem more pronounced in The Celebration) against Lucas, my only real complaint is the title. It makes the metaphorical intent too obvious, slightly cheapening the effect of the film’s bookend scenes. But still these moments have power, particularly in the indoctrination of young Marcus into the world of adult predatory behavior. Rating: Very Good (85)