What if you’re a decent man, with an affinity for children, and you are accused of being a paedophile? This is the dilemma that faces Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) when a misinterpreted remark by a young pupil at the kindergarten where he teaches sparks a flawed investigation.
This is a tricky story to tell as it relies on an unswerving belief in the innocence of the protagonist for the audience to have any sympathy for him. In Hollywood hands, this could have sunk under moralistic handwringing and platitudes. As directed by Dane Thomas Vinterberg (who also made the lovely The Commune (2016)), it is a complex and effective exploration of guilt, doubt and community.
Lucas is a recently divorced father of a teenage son who leaves his bitterness and frustration at the door at his simple and fulfilling job as a teacher at the local kindergarten. Kids love him, he has good friends and he is trying to maintain his relationship with his son despite his ex-wife’s obstructions. He is able to give little Klara (Annika Wedderkop) the attention she doesn’t get from her busy and combative parents. When he awkwardly rebuffs her innocent admission of love, her childish hurt is misinterpreted by the kindergarten head teacher as possible abuse.
As you can imagine, this doesn’t go well for Lucas. Flawed interviewing, panicked reactions from those around him and a mob mentality sees him ostracised from his comfortable community. Wound through this is the theme of hunting as a rite of passage for young men. A community event of celebration, the time is nearing when Lucas’s son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm), will be taken on his first hunt. Shown initially as a sport of camaraderie and masculinity, the prevalence of guns, the inequity of the brute force of humans against the fragility of animals and the destructive potential of the mob is reflected in the actions of the community against Lucas.
I say community but really this is about men and particularly about Lucas’s friendship with Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) and his relationship with his son Marcus. The women in his life are peripheral and largely irritations – his unseen wife, his outsider girlfriend Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) and the head teacher whose dogged protection of Klara is the cause of all his woes. It is not a flattering depiction of masculine relationships, showing them as fragile and easily derailed by doubt.
There is no ambiguity about Lucas’s innocence and, because of this, we feel the weight of injustice at being falsely accused of a crime where your accuser is a five-year-old girl. Mikkelsen does a great job at making Lucas sympathetic without every being completely likeable. Stand out performances come from Fogelstrøm as Marcus, who emerges as a core character in the story, and Wedderkop as Klara who is so believable you forget she is acting.
I wasn’t sure where the narrative would take us but the ending is a satisfying one. There is not the neatness you would get in a Hollywood film but the future for Lucas and the essential changes in his world are subtly but clearly shown.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.