Superficially about child abuse, this riveting, troubling Danish film is actually an exploration of collective paranoia. And the centrepiece performance from Mikkelsen is so good that it helps us overlook some of the rather awkward plot points. Indeed, Mikkelsen won best actor at Cannes for his work here as an innocent man caught in an unexpected witch hunt. But the topic is so touchy that we almost start to doubt him.
Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a nice-guy kindergarten teacher who is recovering from a messy divorce and still hopes to get custody of his teen son Marcus (Fogelstrom). Lucas lives nearby his hunting pal Theo (Larsen), whose young daughter Klara (Wedderkopp) is one of his students. Lucas and Klara have a special connection, so when she tells him she loves him, he corrects her gently. She doesn't take this well, and lashes out with a random lie to the headmistress (Wold), who concludes that Lucas has been abusing her. From here, a series of misunderstandings turns Lucas' life into a nightmare, as he is shunned by everyone he knows.
The way the script creates such a perfect storm for Lucas' downfall is a bit convenient, as several characters bullheadedly refuse to believe a word he says (including his boss and his best friend). And Lucas never defends himself, which might be understandable since he can't even imagine why anyone would accuse him of something so horrible. Mikkelsen plays the role with transparent emotion that grabs hold of us from the start and never lets go. His interaction with everyone is pointed and often shattering. And watching his helplessness in the face of Klara's small germ of a lie is often painful to watch.
Yes, the film is a remarkable exploration of how people tend to believe that young children are incapable of deception, even after the truth comes out. And deluded belief is the real theme here. Filmmaker Vinterberg could have told the same story using another social taboo like terrorism or racial bigotry, but there's an inherent danger in child abuse that gives the film an electric charge, especially as it explores the close relationship between Lucas and his son. And as it grapples with the way we all quickly judge others regardless of the facts, it couldn't be much more resonant.
Box Office Worldwide: $16.8M
Production compaines: Zentropa Entertainments
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Screenwriter: Thomas Vinterberg,, Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, Alexandra Rapaport as Nadja, Thomas Bo Larsen as Theo, Anne Louise Hassing as Agnes, Lars Ranthe as Bruun, Susse Wold as Grethe, Ole Dupont as Godsejer / Advokat, Annika Wedderkopp as Klara, Lasse Fogelstrøm as Marcus