Films about child abuse are not uncommon; in the past few years, Doubt and Precious earned both critical and public acclaim. But a film about child abuse in which the accused adult is the victim is something rare indeed. Writer and director Thomas Vinterberg turns the abuse film trope on its head with The Hunt, a stunning, raw look at how lies and gossip can rip apart a small town and one innocent man's life.
The innocent man at the center of The Hunt is Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen with a performance that earned him Cannes' Best Actor award), a kindergarten teacher who forms a close bond with one student, his best friend's daughter, Klara. When Lucas rebuffs Klara's growing crush, the little girl acts out — in a fit of anger, Klara tells another teacher that Lucas has sexually abused her (the film cleverly has Klara repeat pornographic expressions she overheard her teenaged brother saying). What follows is a manhunt that leaves audiences — along with Lucas — shaking with anger.
Unlike the aforementioned Doubt, there is never any question that Lucas is innocent. And this conceit brings with it enough emotional baggage to carry the film for its 115 minutes. As Lucas' frustration turns to despair and finally terror, so does the audience's. And yet, you can't help but sympathize with the parents and community as well. "Why would a child lie?" is one of the film's central questions, and while the audience is privy to the answer throughout, it is equally understandable why the adults are unable to comprehend this being the case. While it's horrifying to see an innocent man so ruthlessly persecuted, it's equally (maybe even more) terrible to think of an abused child going unavenged. So who wins here? The film asks the question but leaves the viewer to find his own answer, buried somewhere at the bottom of the giant pit building in his stomach.
In addition to the challenging moral questions it asks of its audience, the film is superlative in its casting. Mikkelsen leads the charge with his honest, lovable, and righteous Lucas, but not far behind is seven-year-old Annika Wedderkopp as Klara. With her endearing nose twitch and soulful eyes, she is such a natural on screen you sometimes forget you're watching a scripted film. Supporting actors Thomas Bo Larsen and Anne Louise Hassing (as Klara's parents) as well as Danish veteran actress Susse Wold (as Klara's teacher) help to further create a believable world.
But, as good as the acting is, The Hunt is more than the sum of its strong performances. It is the emotional rollercoaster — from delight to dread to terror and back — that the film takes you on that makes it one to remember. Or, more accurately, one that you'll find very hard to forget. Vinterberg's vision is one that haunts you — just as Lucas' trials will haunt him — long after you leave the theater.
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More:Thomas Vinterberg on Making an 'Incredibly Danish' FilmUltimate Villain Mads Mikkelsen on Being Good in 'The Hunt' Cannes Chatter: 'The Hunt' Premieres to Audience Applause
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The fact that Klown, the first film from comedians Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, is hitting American theaters this week is a bit of a miracle. Danish film is a booming industry with homegrown movies finding financial success — when it was released in Denmark in 2010, Klown came in second to Avatar as the country's highest grossing film. Sadly, only a handful of the country's films make it stateside each year. On top of that, Klown is easily one of the most disturbing, graphic cinematic experiences in years, like The Hangover's snapshot credit sequence come to life (meaning, it's also wicked funny). So how did the raunchy comedy beat the odds? Based on Hvam and Christensen's experiences, people just loved it.
"We wrote it for the Danish market and suddenly it took off in Norway and Finland and Iceland," says Christensen. "We said, 'OK, people who have not seen the television show can get something out of the movie.' Then suddenly it won something at a movie festival in Canada, then in Austin, Texas…it was a surprise for us!" Hvam and Christensen adapted Klown from their Danish television show of the same name, a Seinfeldian comedy about the little things in life that blow up in the two protagonists faces episode after episode. The duo wrote and starred in six seasons of Klown before ending the series (which has never aired in the U.S.) — a lot of ideas, a lot scripts, a lot of comedy. Christesen admits the prospect of coming up with another adventure for their fictional counterparts (also named Frank and Casper) was daunting. But like many TV-to-movie adaptations, Hvam suggests that they key to keeping it fresh was to go bigger. "The way out was to go for big emotions. We had made 60 episodes and they were about small things. It could be about a pen missing. That could be 25 minutes. And of course, you can't fill a movie with a small story like that. So to find that core story filled with emotion and that was the new thing for us. A man fighting for his merits and his unborn child. "
Klown follows Frank, a man whose shaky relationship is thrown into greater chaos after the revelation that his girlfriend is pregnant. Frank, in hopes of proving to his girlfriend isn't a reckless dolt, decides to "take" (literally, without permission) her nephew Bo on a camping trip with his best friend Casper. Casper and Frank's previously scheduled trip was set to involve sleeping with prostitutes, doing drugs, and drinking themselves into a stupor. Most of Klown involves both men trying to do all that while towing along a 12-year-old. Chaos and hilarity obviously ensue.
"When you remove all the sex things, it's still a heartwarming story," says Hvam. Frank and Bo's relationship is genuinely touching, it's impossible to imagine Klown without its button-pushing humor. Early in the film, Frank finds himself in a heated argument with his girlfriend over his immaturity. Not knowing what to do to win he back, Frank takes Casper's relationship advice: give her a "pearl necklace." So he does. "We all know the situation: you're in a relationship, no children, and it's getting boring," says Havm. "You need some new inputs for the relationship. Need to find something to renew the relationship. A pearl necklace isn't the right thing to do…but it's still an attempt to do something about the relationship." Christensen believes the messy sex move could actually work. "I think every girlfriend would really appreciate the physical love you show her by doing a pearl necklace. I'd recommend it."
"But not when she's sleeping," says Hvam.
"I think exactly when she's sleeping," snaps Christensen. "Because then she's pure, like Snow White, when she's sleeping. You love her so much you could not hold back."
In a truly jaw-dropping moment, Frank and Casper find themselves under the influence and all but ready to prank their youngster counterpart. The two pull a stunt that would elicit screams if the target were an adult. With a child… "We had to build a 12-year-old penis in latex," says Christensen. "It's illegal, even Denmark." The brief nudity is one of the more twisted comedic moments in film history — finally, special effects put to good use. "Someone built it. It was very expensive. I can tell you that. Like $1,000 to make that penis." Hvam says he and Christensen have the proof. "We made some extra footage of making the latex penis, in case we ended up court."
As shocking as it sounds, audiences around the world have embraced Hvam and Christensen's blissfuly disastrous adventure. In Denmark, the film is rated so that an 11-year-old could theoretically catch it in theaters. The duo don't recommend any 11-year-olds actually see their film, but they do think it's tailored made for grown-ups of all ages. "We're kind of surprised about the age range. There are a lot of people in the 60+ who are going to see it and like it. The movie is two 40-year-old idiots doing crazy sex stuff. But of course, people who have lived their whole lives have experienced so much strangeness, so they can look at our movie and say, 'I've tried that.'" Aside from a few disgruntled Swedish women who cornered them at one of Klown's many festival screenings, Hvam and Christensen's haven't seen much pushback over Klown. Hvam believes the sex comedy is more digestible then you might expect thanks to its morality. "Our actions in the film have consequences. We are punished. And I think that makes people calm about it."
Even before its official release, interest in Klown has permeated to Hollywood's biggest comedic players; in April, Danny McBride and Hangover director Todd Phillips bought the rights to the movie for an American remake. But with the limits of the R-rating in the U.S. being what they are, an English version of Klown may never reach the absolute insanity on display in Hvam and Christensen's version. If we're lucky, there may be even more original Klown movies in the future. Christensen teases, "We're planning on writing one more in late this Fall." It may take that long just to fully believe what actually goes down in the first film.
Klown opens in limited release and debut on iTunes and VOD July 27th.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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In certain respects David O. Russell’s boxing drama The Fighter is a sports movie masquerading as an Oscar grab. It bears many of the hallmarks of awards ponies that are often trotted out this time of year: It’s set in a working-class town (Lowell Massachusetts) in the midst of demographic upheaval; one of its lead actors Christian Bale put his health at risk so that he might realistically portray the corrosive effects of crack addiction; its director took great care to stock it with an abundance of auteurist flourishes; its poster is suitably understated; and its initial theatrical release is extremely limited (only four cities). But underneath The Fighter’s prospecting facade beats the heart of a determined crowd-pleaser -- a triumphant underdog tale of an aging boxer who overcame long odds to reach the pinnacle of his sport -- that cannot be suppressed.
The structure of The Fighter which is based on the true story of doormat-turned-champion “Irish” Micky Ward reflects its director’s conflicting impulses. The film is roughly divided into two parts the first of which is fashioned almost purely as a showcase for Bale who portrays Ward’s half-brother Dicky Eklund a once-promising welterweight who long ago squandered his talent on a drug habit that none of his family members seem willing to acknowledge.
Balding emaciated and nearly toothless Dicky bristles with boundless (and no doubt chemically enhanced) energy strutting through town and boasting incessantly of his exploits -- his 1978 knockdown of Sugar Ray Leonard in particular -- in a voice made raspy by (presumably) vocal chords repeatedly singed by crack smoke. Though officially Micky’s trainer he seems less concerned with his brother’s fight preparation than with promoting his own supposed “comeback ” which he claims an HBO Films crew has been sent to chronicle. In truth they’re making a documentary on crack addiction but Dicky’s delusion is so profound -- and so impervious to reality -- that he fails to recognize it.
Russell is clearly enamored with Bale’s performance -- he all but emblazons the words “For Your Consideration” at the top of the screen during the actor’s scenes -- and as a result he grants his actor too long of a leash. Bale dominates every frame in which he appears but sometimes he overreaches and his scene-stealing antics occasionally verge on clownish. (In a pre-emptive strike against those who might dismiss the performance as a prolonged exercise in scenery chewing Russell includes a documentary clip of the real-life brothers during the film’s closing credits and true to Bale’s portrayal Dicky is an unrepentant attention hound.)
Dicky’s losing battle with crack culminates in a harebrained money-raising scheme hatched straight out of the Tyrone Biggums playbook for which he earns a lengthy penitentiary stay. But just as we begin to suspect The Fighter might morph into a gritty addiction memoir the narrative shifts its focus to Micky who after suffering quietly for years under the misguided tutelage of his junkie brother and their domineering mother/manager Alice (Melissa Leo) finally starts to assert himself. With the help of his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) a bulldog with a tramp stamp whose foul mouth and stiff upper lip provide the perfect antidote to the machinations of Micky’s mother and seven (!) catty sisters his own (genuine) comeback finally gains momentum.
So does the film. Because of its triumphant second half -- during which Micky ascends through the welterweight ranks in a series of brutal slugfests and eventually upsets a much younger Shea Neary to win his first title -- The Fighter will likely be branded hokey by some but that’s hardly the director’s fault. The story all but demands it. For the most part Russell steers clear of the sentimental tropes seen in films like Cinderella Man and the Rocky saga and he documents every pummeling Micky receives with gruesome buzz-killing detail. But the story’s feel-good aspects like Micky are astoundingly resilient and in the end Russell has no choice but to yield to them.