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Remember This Scene: 'The Hunt'

Jeremy Fuster |
February 26, 2015 | 5:50 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

'Hannibal' star Mads Mikkelsen's performance as a man falsely accused of child molestation helped propel 'The Hunt' to an Oscar nomination. (Nordisk Film)
'Hannibal' star Mads Mikkelsen's performance as a man falsely accused of child molestation helped propel 'The Hunt' to an Oscar nomination. (Nordisk Film)
The Oscars have come and gone, and instead of the complaints I expected about the Academy giving Best Picture to 'Birdman' because actors love movies about actors -- I personally can live with it -- the day after discussion was primarily focused on the speeches that were given. Many of the award winners used their two minutes of glory to stump for a cause, whether it was equal wages, suicide prevention, or African-American incarceration.

It was nice to see all these people take a stand for something they're passionate about without being jerks about it, but for me, the big speech of the night is one that will forever change the face of the Oscars: the fall of the Oscar Orchestra.

Forevermore, we will remember the night that 'Ida' director Pawel Pawlikowski accepted his award for Best Foreign Language film with pure defiance in his bones. He flew thousands of miles to Hollywood to get the same statue that all the big stars got, and by golly, he's going to have his moment without the pressure of those musical demons holed up at Capitol Records bearing down on him. He stood his ground and thanked everyone he wanted to thank, and with a single act of defiance, their power was vanquished. Never again will the winner of a category that "doesn't matter" have to worry about having to cram his speech into a thirty second window. Never again will the biggest moment of their career be destroyed by the sound of Jaws approaching. Pawel Pawlikowski arrived at the Dolby Theatre as a hopeful nominee. He left it as a cinematic hero.

READ MORE: Why Patricia Arquette Deserves Praise For Her Oscar Speech

I think there's no better way to honor this magnificent man than by embracing the world of subtitles that is foreign film. America has perfected the art of turning movies into stories without borders, resulting in films that make hundreds of millions worldwide without fail. But with the exception of anime, there isn't a big market for non-English films in the States, and that's a shame, because there are some truly thought-provoking and socially relevant films being made out there. For example, look at a film that was one of last year's Oscar-nominated foreign films: 'The Hunt.'

Made in Denmark and nominated for the Palme D'Or at Cannes, 'The Hunt' is about a kindergarten teacher named Lucas whose life is completely shot to hell when one of the kids he takes care of claims he molested her. The girl really doesn't know what she's accusing Lucas of. Between fighting parents and a brother who thrusts iPads with hardcore porn pictures on them in her face, Lucas is the only person she looks up to, yet her troubled upbringing leaves her confused as to what the boundaries of that relationship are.

But her accusation, said in a moment of great distress, is enough to destroy Lucas. The teachers and parents at the school ask the kids leading questions that only raise suspicion, and even when a public trial proves Lucas' innocence, the townspeople decide to take matters into their own hands. Lucas and his son are assaulted wherever they go and become social pariahs, and it all comes to a head on Christmas Eve, when Lucas confronts the girl's father, who until the incident had been his lifelong friend.

Before we get to the scene, let's talk about the actor who plays Lucas: Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen is known in America as a villain. He played Le Chiffre in the Bond film 'Casino Royale' and currently plays the lead role on NBC's 'Hannibal.' On first glance, it's easy to see why Mikkelsen gets typecast in this role. He has a deep voice and a very worn face, filled with weathered skin and deep creases and a seemingly vacant gaze. Combined with the right lighting, Mikkelsen looks like the face of pure evil, the shadows cast across his visage making him look like an inhuman monster.

Here, though, Mikkelsen does not play an evil man. He plays a man suffering from the evils caused by a society made of good people. In the first 30 minutes of 'The Hunt,' Lucas is shown to be a decent, caring, and very innocent man, and then we watch as his life is permanently shattered through no fault of his own. On Christmas Eve, the night that is supposed to be about peace and goodwill towards men, he tries to go to church for a small respite. But even there, he can find no escape. He sees Theo, his lifelong friend who immediately cut ties with him the moment his daughter made the molestation claim. Even now, Theo is looking at Lucas and whispering things about him to his wife. It's the final straw, and it leads to this brutal moment.

Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award at Cannes for this performance, and the breakdown in the chapel had to be the clincher. The face that made him such a great modern villain is used to show Lucas at his wit's end. The incandescent light of the chapel helps accentuate the lines beneath his eyes as he sings in an attempt to calm down, but to no avail. Finally, he explodes at Theo, trying to make one final declaration of his innocence before the entire town before leaving.

'The Hunt' should have been the winner of the Best Foreign Language category last year. Instead it went to 'The Great Beauty,' a beautifully shot but exceedingly tedious piece about the decline of Italian culture. 'The Hunt,' on the other hand, is universal. It explores the injustice that comes when a lie made without malice is repeated and twisted until it becomes a commonly accepted truth used against an innocent man. It shows how willing we are to assume guilt, even when there is a complete lack of evidence. At the center of it all is Mikkelsen, who puts forth the best performance of his career, one that would have gotten an Oscar nod if it had been in English. Mikkelsen can do more than look at people with hungry eyes or scratch James Bond's balls with a rope. He is one of Europe's finest actors, ready to take the world on a psychological roller coaster that hits close to home wherever you live.

Reach Staff Reporter Jeremy Fuster here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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