Archive for the Foreign Category

Mustang

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on January 17, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo mustang_ver2_zpsy2ovvvho.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgMustang is set in a remote Turkish village and depicts the life of five young sisters. Our tale concerns them all but is more centered on Lale (Güneş Şensoy). Her teacher at school is leaving for Istanbul. After saying goodbye, she accompanies her sisters on the walk home during a beautiful sunlit day. On the way, they stop off at the beach. They join some of their male classmates in a water game, fully clothed incidentally, where they sit on the boys’ shoulders trying to knock each other off. A neighbor spies the impropriety and the news of their seemingly innocent game reaches their family. The five orphaned teen sisters live with their grandmother in an isolated town on the Black Sea. She along with their overly protective uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) are shocked.  Their harmless goofing around is viewed as licentious behavior. The incident has lasting repercussions on the girls’ life from that moment forward.

Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a Turkish female director born in that country. However she was raised in France and is currently based there.  As such this picture was nominated as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.  In a broad sense, the chronicle is about freedom. More specifically the accessible subject concerns the unique challenges that girls face growing up in a conservative Muslim society. The narrative does a good job at detailing how their home life transforms after the event. They’re given virginity tests and forbidden to leave the house – even for school.  Soon after their uncle intends to marry every single one of them off as soon as possible. As the 5 sisters band together under the tightening restraints of their domesticity, their sisterly bond is captivating. They exhibit a camaraderie that is touching – a pretty, free-spirited group on the precipice of burgeoning sexuality. However, the group behaves as a unit and that often makes it hard to differentiate one sister from the other. Only the youngest, Lale (Güneş Şensoy) who narrates the story, truly stands out.

Director’s Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s harsh critique of an oppressive patriarchal society is straightforward, but it isn’t subtle. The saga descends from the carefree optimism on the beach into the dark corruption of a community prone to gender bias. The essential “house arrest” of these 5 teen girls approaches the totalitarian conditions of a jail.  The nightmare that is their homelife is clearly evident. Their subjugation is infuriating. As Westerners we are forced into a judgmental corner and are predictably outraged. The cultural portrait is nicely presented. This makes the decision to further stack the narrative by also making the uncle sexually abusive, a bit ham-handed. The focus isn’t just about the tyranny of a culture unjust to women anymore. Now we’re dealing with sexual assault. The approach is unnecessarily embellished. We feel the forcible pull of a screenplay, co-written by the director and Alice Winocour, overstating its case. However as the debut feature from an up-and-coming filmmaker, there’s still a lot to admire here.

01-07-16

Goodnight Mommy

Posted in Foreign, Horror, Thriller with tags on October 8, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Goodnight Mommy photo starrating-4stars.jpgCreepy twins? Check. Domineering mother? Check. Frightening masks? Hissing cockroaches? A newly acquired pet? A priest? A cemetery? Cornfields? Plot twist? All present and accounted for. Goodnight Mommy contains some timeworn horror movie tropes, but instead of relying on clichés, it elevates the formula. The sampling synthesizes these elements into something entirely new and surprisingly innovative. Horror, arthouse cinema or psychological thriller, it’s all of these and more. I dare say within its framework, I faced a small handful of the most uniquely disquieting images I have ever seen. You can’t unsee these things. The concepts are creatively unsettling.

Goodnight Mommy is the first narrative feature from filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. Ever since it had its world premiere at last year’s Venice Film Festival, the movie has built up a solid reputation of positive buzz. In September it was even submitted as Austria’s 2015 Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film.  Flashback: fellow countryman Michael Haneke’s Amor won the award for Austria back in 2012. Interestingly Goodnight Mommy actually recalls the chilly isolation of Michael Haneke’s work, particularly with his Funny Games. Even the similar setting, a gorgeous estate by the lake, is incongruously tranquil for a horror flick.

The writer-director team of Franz and Fiala take the sacred bond that exists between a mother and her children and shatters it to pieces. In their deconstruction, the chronicle plays out slowly, but at the climax, the dysfunction reaches a boiling point. Elias and Lukas are nine-year-old twin boys enjoying the summer in a modernist lake house made of steel and glass. Things seem fairly idyllic until mother shows up. Father is not in the picture. Mother’s appearance is obscured, her face wrapped in bandages, apparently the result of some facial surgery. She is a television presenter so perhaps the procedures were cosmetic. Regardless, her presence now vexes the children. She regresses into more irritable and oppressive, almost malicious, behavior. Is this woman their mother or is she an impostor? The boys have their doubts. What follows is an exploration of identity and trust.

To give any more plot details would be to spoil the delight of discovery. Oh and believe me, this spine-chiller has a few shocking developments. The drama travels down a twisty path that grows ever more grotesque. The descent is so gradual that for most of the duration I was completely on board. The eerie trip mostly relies on psychological horror. If the directors make an error, it’s that they ultimately show more than they should. The flirtation with gore is enough. By the end, the plunge into Grand Guignol crosses the line. Only once, okay maybe twice. The impropriety betrays the dominant milieu of the picture.

In this genre, what often separates the wheat from the chaff is the visual lexicon, that is – the discernible style of the director which is then boldly captured by the cinematographer. Here they artfully flaunt a narrative that manifests anxiety. The dread is palpable. The fact that the ambiguous story is created without much clarification intensifies the air of disorientation. Granted there are a lot of red herrings that purposefully mislead the viewer in ways that don’t always play fair. I still have no idea what that pizza delivery was about. But in a production such as this, the misdirection only heightens the unease. The script skillfully undermines the strength of the familial bonds we hold dear. I won’t soon forget the experience. I just have one nagging question: Why are the Red Cross volunteers in Austria so aggressive?

10-07-15

About Elly

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Mystery with tags on June 4, 2015 by Mark Hobin

About Elly photo starrating-4stars.jpgAsghar Farhadi is the master of the emotionally complex human drama. The Iranian director and screenwriter first came to worldwide recognition with his masterpiece A Separation. That picture debuted December 2011 in the U.S. and subsequently won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for that year. Two years later he helmed The Past, another masterwork that brilliantly explored human relationships. Before those successes however he directed About Elly, a 2009 movie in his native Iran, but ran into difficulties when the original U.S. distributor went bankrupt. New York based Cinema Guild stepped in and gave the film an official limited release in April 2015.

Like Farhadi’s two most recent works, About Elly is composed in very much the same way. The calm of a slowly constructed set-up is shattered by a significant event which propels the drama. This story concerns a group 3 married couples, the single brother of one of the married women, and three young children, reuniting for a weekend outing by the Caspian Sea. Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), the woman whose stunning visage adorns the movie poster, has also invited Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), her daughter’s kindergarten teacher. A bit of a matchmaker, Sepideh has brought Elly along in hopes of setting her up with her recently divorced brother Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini). For the first 40 minutes, we see the group have a good time. This effectively establishes the relationships, although I’d contend this section could’ve been a little more compelling. They dance, talk, play charades and volleyball. Yet Elly seems somewhat disconnected from the proceedings, a little shy perhaps. Then, as is usually the case with Farhadi dramas, that moment occurs which sets everything in motion.

With About Elly, the less you know the better, so I won’t reveal specifics. I’ll only say that the whereabouts of Elly becomes a problem. This introduces a series of conversations that slowly expose details that were heretofore unknown. The exchanges raise some unusual questions about moral principles and conduct. The toxicity of lies has been the subject of Farhadi’s previous work, and this chronicle is no exception. What makes About Elly even more uncommon is the ethical concerns it raises that are unique to Iranian culture. One lie leads to another. Many arise out of cultural norms that would not be an issue in say the U.S. Farhadi’s screenplay, based on a story created with Azad Jafarian, is brilliant and perfectly acted by an ensemble cast that is asd captivating as they are natural. Actress Golshifteh Farahani as Sepideh is particularly good. The narrative rests heavily on her shoulders. When she starts coughing out of worry, you can feel her stress. About Elly further cements Asghar Farhadi’s reputation as one of our finest directors working today.

05-31-15

Two Days, One Night

Posted in Drama, Foreign on January 19, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Two Days, One Night photo starrating-3stars.jpgBy now the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have established themselves as a major force within the Belgian movie industry. They write, produce and direct their pictures together. They’ve been nominated for the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, SIX times and have actually won twice. Their latest is the French language Two Days, One Night, yet another one of their films that appropriates the aesthetics of directors like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. The principles of 1940s Italian neorealism is updated to modern day Belgium in a tale that documents one working class woman’s journey to reclaim her job.

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has suffered a nervous breakdown and has taken a leave of absence. While away, her colleagues pick up her slack by putting in longer hours. In exchange they are promised the hefty bonus of €1000 Euros. Now redundant, Sandra’s ability to return to work hinges on a vote amongst her co-workers. They must agree to either forgo their extra salary so she can be hired back OR keep their compensation and invalidate her position.

Marion Cotillard is a gorgeous woman and she’s naturally pretty here but not the unattainable beauty she often plays in American films. She is a working class mother and wife, dealing with the threat of losing her job. She presents a desperate woman persuading her co-workers to relinquish their bonuses. In this way, the small solar-panel factory where they’re employed, will hire her back. Sandra is not well. She has nightmares during the day, cannot stop crying, and is popping pills at an alarming rate just to stay calm. Cotillard conveys a world weary vulnerability. She is utterly believable as a woman still suffering from serious mental illness.

What isn’t credible is that a company would decide whether to rehire a sick employee back, by placing that decision in the hands of said person’s co-workers . Perhaps this kind of egalitarianism on the job is commonplace in Belgium but in the U.S. there is a distinct hierarchy in the workplace. At any level of responsibility, one reports to a person known as a supervisor and that boss is responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the company. Whether people get hired or fired is not left to one’s peers to decide. The premise is so contrived and far fetched that it makes the nature of the tragedy seem kind of ridiculous. Add to the fact that the entire movie consists of watching a woman, albeit a sympathetic one, beg for her job to one person after another for 90 minutes. Marion Cotillard commands your attention but the drama itself is awkward, demeaning and unpleasantly repetitive.

01-18-15

The Great Beauty

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on January 5, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Great Beauty photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Great Beauty is director Paolo Sorrentino’s ode to finding the beauty in one’s own existence. The production reunites the filmmaker with his frequent lead star (and muse) Toni Servillo in a character study. We’re presented a contemporary version of Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella. The aging bon vivant once wrote a masterpiece novel in his twenties. However he hasn’t written anything of note in the 40 years since. Now the well dressed playboy has retired to infrequently writing cultural columns, and is living the good life in an incredible apartment overlooking the Coliseum.

There is a euphoria to the party scenes that is captivating. Rome is a stunning backdrop——the cathedrals, the museums, the amphitheaters. I’d almost defy any filmmaker to make an ugly movie here. These stately monuments of the old world contrast with the vacuous people of the new world. Jep is cultured, intelligent and parties until dawn nearly every night with the country’s well-to-do. Their lives an intoxicating mix of celebration, superficiality and emptiness. We first meet Jep as he’s celebrating his 65th birthday. He experiences reality as an observer lamenting his current situation. He’s searching for that intangible revelation. The script contrasts Jep’s despondency with the enthusiastic zeal of party revelers. The opening soirée is a dazzling mélange of music and merriment. It presents an energy that is palpable.

There’s little substance, only style to this beautiful looking film. I suppose that’s the point. It’s not about narrative thrust, but more of a feeling, a vibe. The plot is just a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. He surrounds himself with various oddballs: a nun with two crooked teeth, a clever stripper, a self-described “dwarf”. We see a young girl unhappily creating avant-garde paintings by throwing herself at a canvas in front of an audience. Through wisecracks and cynical smirks, Jep breezes through life. “The best people in Rome are the tourists” he offers casually. You’re meant to hang on his every word, but he’s a bit self involved. Occasionally he says something great. He tells a pretentious performance artist exactly what he thinks of her work and it’s refreshingly pragmatic. Unfortunately his lamentations put him in a melancholy state. Of course he doesn’t have any real problems and that lack of conflict tugs at your brain throughout the 142 minutes. For the most part, The Great Beauty is more of an art house feast for the eyes than the mind.

The Past

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Mystery with tags on December 29, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Past photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe incredible promise that Director Asghar Farhadi demonstrated with 2011’s A Separation has proven to be no fluke with his subsequent follow-up, The Past. He recounts human behavior with the precision of an absolute master. The plot is artfully straightforward. Four years after separating from his ex-wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), an Iranian man from Tehran named Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), arrives in Paris to finalize his divorce. Marie has 2 daughters from her previous marriage and is currently in a relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), an Arab man. Samir’s wife is in a coma and he has a son with her. Director Farhadi’s understanding of the human heart makes the sentimentality of modern movies look like ersatz emotion. The Past is ambitious in its desire to portray human feeling so honestly. It’s ironic because this is about the façades that people put up to mask their genuine desires.

The Past is an intensely intimate drama concerning 3 key people: Marie, Samir, and Ahmad. As was the case with A Separation, everyone’s point of view is displayed. No one is a villain. We tend to identify with ex-husband Ahmad since that is the person through which most of the action is filtered. However each character has their own merits. Bernice Bejo is quite moving as mother Marie. She is a sympathetic, maternal presence that is immediately affecting. She has two daughters from an even earlier marriage before Ahmad. One is a little girl, the other a 16 year old. Bejo portrays an intelligent woman that seems to have everything in order. Then the cracks begin to show. Older daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) has the warmest regard for her former step dad. The bond with her mother is strained because Lucie disapproves of her mother’s current boyfriend Samir. You’ll find yourself vacillating between the various characters trying to decide whose side you’re truly on. What originally appears as the picture of accord, is a woman gently unraveling at the seams.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has a knack for extracting fervid passion from our everyday lives. His talent for constructing a fascinating tale from a deceptively simple scenario is nothing less than genius. He starts with routine domestic problems. Then offers an endlessly compelling saga with unflinching honesty. The criteria by which we judge human drama has been elevated. It sets the new emotional high bar by which all other movies must now aspire. Director Asghar Farhadi presents the narrative unencumbered by elaborate devices. Sans music, costumes, special effects, flashbacks, nonlinear storytelling and other stylistic flourishes, he strips the production bare and serves it up to an audience for perusal. Much of the true feeling that percolates beneath the surface is evident not from dialogue, but from body language and gestures. The chronicle considers how we put up walls that impede effective communication. Once again, you think you know the story. As it unfolds, layers are exposed. As developments are revealed we’re drawn deeper into their crumbling relationships. Then the daughter reveals something that threatens to change everything. This is humanity and you cannot look away.

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Romance with tags on December 11, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Blue Is the Warmest Color photo starrating-4stars.jpgAdèle is a girl in secondary school. She yearns for romance, but her desires are complicated by conflicting feelings. Egged on by the inane chatter of her high school friends, Adèle goes out with a good looking schoolboy who is attracted to her. On the way to their date, she spies a young mysterious blue haired woman with her arms around another girl. They lock glances. Adèle and Thomas date briefly and although he is taken with her, she breaks up with him. Adèle later meets Emma, the woman she spied earlier. They embark on a relationship.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was originally titled The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2. Somehow that seems more appropriate.  At 3 hours, the movie is like two halves: the original movie and then its sequel pushed together to form two episodes in the life. The first half is what causes two people to fall in love. The second, is what drives them apart. Throughout it all, emotions run the gamut from joy and excitement to melancholia and pain. The drama is such a fully realized portrait, that even after the extreme length, you still might be curious what’s next for Adèle. What happens to her in Chapter 3?

At the film’s heart are two stunning performances. Léa Seydoux is Emma. The French actress is recognized for both French (Farewell, My Queen) and American (Inglorious Basterds, Robin Hood, Midnight in Paris) productions alike. Adèle is played with uncompromising credibility by newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos. As the star, she anchors the drama with her work. Since she shares the same name as her character and this is her first major role, I am impulsively tempted to conclude she is merely playing herself. Yet even that would require the skills of a great thespian given what she does here. She presents a teenager that is nearly flawless in its honesty. The achievement never translates as acting. She just is.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche allows scenarios to play far beyond a normal duration. In most cases, this is a good thing because it heightens the experience that this is reality. The interactions drift and percolate like authentic dialogue. They deceptively feel improvised because of their utter veracity. Yet the script is too focused to truly believe that. They highlight the process of learning about someone and slowly getting to understand them. As a whole the picture attempts to portray every facet of a relationship. The film has most famously drawn publicity for its lovemaking scenes. A sequence in and of itself can shock sensibilities. Their desire culminates in extended scenes of intimacy that do push accepted boundaries. This is an unedited, unembarrassed and sensual expression. Admittedly, the director does a disservice at making them so graphic. Their explicitness tends to overshadow the sensitivity of the rest of the narrative which depicts their association with a much tender approach.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes, its highest honor. For the first time ever the prize was also officially bestowed to two actors as well: Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. That just shows how intrinsic they are to the success of the picture. It presents a relationship in unexpurgated detail – an unbridled 3 hours. Normally that would be a barrier in engaging the attention, but the plot never seems dull. Director Abdellatif Kechiche lets a scene gradually unfold. The script has a natural rhythm. The conversations take their time in the way genuine people would interact with long pauses and the awkwardness of dialogue that isn’t perfected. That permits a candor that is determined in being explicit with feeling. This has courted controversy for its sexual depictions. It could be argued that they are a physical manifestation of the intimacy we’ve already seen on an intellectual level. The director has nevertheless made a dubious choice which is ultimately a misstep. Evaluated as an overall account, however, those minutes constitute a very small part. Most of the story has a delicate beauty of real life and raw emotion that has rarely been presented so honestly.

The Wind Rises

Posted in Animation, Drama, Foreign with tags on December 11, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Wind Rises photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgYoung Jiro fantasizes about being a pilot. But the boy’s nearsightedness makes that impossible. Instead he joins a major Japanese engineering company in 1927 and starts designing airplanes to satiate his desires. The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the creator of the Mitsubishi A5M and its famous successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Both fighter planes were used by Japan during World War II. When Jiro is focused on designing aircraft and pursuing his dreams, the movie is an uplifting portrait of a man with a purpose. Jiro is motivated by his idol, Italian aviation pioneer Giovanni Caproni who appears to him in hallucinations. These anecdotes help flesh out a character that remains somewhat enigmatic. The narrative later finds our protagonist consumed by his devotion for Naoko, the woman who would become his wife. Their relationship is less captivating. What starts as a fascinating chronicle of a visionary sort of falters in its gooey love story of a romance affected by the onset of tuberculosis. There are still many beautiful images that highlight this graceful presentation of flight.

Hayao Miyazaki has announced that this is his final film. The 72 year old director is a legend in the world of Japanese animation. He was largely unknown in the West until Princess Mononoke was released in 1999. Then came Spirited Away which won the Academy Award for Best Animated feature of 2002. Both were breathtaking fantasies filled with magic and mystical creatures. This is Miyazaki’s first to be inspired by an actual figure. Intertwined into the plot are historical events leading up to Japan’s entry into WWII. The Wind Rises is not dependent on supernatural elements like Hayao Miyazaki’s other works. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of gorgeous visuals. A simple sequence of Jiro contemplating the path of a paper plane as it takes to the sky is hypnotic. The spectacle of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 is a stunning feat of both sight and sound. Throughout it all, Jiro remains the picture of a pacifist. History buffs might pause at the placid portrayal of the guy responsible for the very machines that kamikaze fighters would use to kill people. Although never really addressed, the depiction implies that his nonviolent passions were exploited by the military.

The Wind Rises is a fitting swan song for legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. With its slow pace and developing love story, the drama almost comes across like a live action film. Despite some lighthearted vignettes, the tone is decidedly serious. In that respect, the production is not aimed at children. Its deliberate pace and extreme length do tend to tax viewers who are not already devotees of anime. However there is a lot to recommend about The Wind Rises. Its poetic style and luminous imagery are beyond compare. Additionally the careful attention to an authentic time and place makes this unique amongst the stridently hip, modern anachronisms found in most cartoons of today. I appreciated its history of real events like the Great Depression and the rise of fascism woven into a rosy reflection of an innovator captivated by airplanes and flight. It’s all gorgeously hand drawn in the anime style so fans of Studio Ghibli will most definitely be in heaven. The imaginative production is clearly the lovingly crafted work of a talented director driven by passion.

Wadjda

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on October 23, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Wadjda photo starrating-4stars.jpgSaudi Arabia has no movie theaters. Clerics oppose public screenings because they encourage mingling of the sexes. Small wonder that it has taken until 2013 to get Wadjda, the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. In a country where a film industry is virtually absent, this fact alone would make its existence commendable. However this is also the first feature-length picture made by a female Saudi. That makes it an extraordinary accomplishment even before a single frame is viewed. Although I’m happy to proclaim that the production is a laudatory achievement in its own right.

Wadjda is a 10-year-old Saudi girl from the capital city of Riyadh. She lives there with her mother (Reem Abdullah). She has a father (Sultan Al Assaf) as well, but her relationship with him is confusing. We grow to understand he is seeking a second wife, which is why he is seldom at home. Wadjda watches the boys ride their bikes in and around town. She yearns to own her own cycle. Every day on the way to school she passes by a store where she spies one beautiful new bike for sale. She longs to buy the expensive vehicle and race against her friend Abdullah, a boy from the neighborhood. This is Wadjda’s effort to raise the money.

Wadjda does more than just tell a compelling story. It is a cultural record. We learn women cannot vote, laugh outdoors, or even be seen by men unless covered. Women are pressured to wear a full-length black covering called an abaya. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Rights are dictated and defined by Sunni Islam and tribal customs. Yes, director Haifaa al-Mansour’s work is politically charged, but not in the way you think. It’s refreshingly subtle. It merely presents society without comment. The viewer is freely allowed to criticize or support what they see. To western audiences unfamiliar with such customs, they will seem intolerable, but the production surprisingly feels charming and light. Credit young actress Waad Mohammed who plays our titular heroine. She embodies sweetness and grace with just a smidge of tomboy. Needless to say, the idea of a little girl riding a bike is something frowned upon here as it is seen as detrimental to a girl’s virtue.

Writer-director Haifaa Al-Mansour does the impossible. She has produced a film in a country with no film industry to speak of. Add that she is female in a community where women are forbidden to publicly interact with unrelated men. Wadjda is fascinating because it does two things brilliantly. One, it offers a gripping narrative of a captivating character. Secondly it also serves as a document of Saudi society. The director even fashions a climactic Koran recital contest as an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. We get an expert’s view from the inside. The presentation of culture was a real eye opener for this critic. The strict moral codes might be described as oppressive, yet the milieu never reads that way. Joyful, effervescent and uplifting, this is about the triumph of the human spirit. How one rebellious little girl deals with her innocent desire to simply own a bike. Saudis can still watch movies via satellite, DVD and video in the privacy of their own homes. Perhaps one day they will be able to see this in a cinema. You however don’t have that problem. Please exercise that right and see this film.

The Hunt

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on August 7, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Hunt photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe avant-garde filmmaking movement known as Dogme 95 was started in 1995 by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Their goal was to focus filmmaking techniques on actual story and performances and eschew expensive special effects. Perhaps The Hunt doesn’t adhere to the strict guidelines of a Dogme film, nevertheless, the emphasis on stark reality and raw human emotion is undeniably present.

In this account a beloved day care worker is wrongly accused of sexual abuse by one of his students. Mads Mikkelsen is Lucas, a teacher who is well liked and has many good friends in the tight close-knit community. The rising star won Best Actor at Cannes in 2012 for his understated work here. Recently divorced, he divides his time between his job and taking care of his teenaged son. Due to a recent school closure he is currently working as a kindergarten assistant to Grethe, another teacher. Then one day a disturbing remark is made to Grethe by one of the kids at the school, a little girl portrayed by incredibly natural young actress Annika Wedderkopp.

Virtually every single scene is compelling. The Hunt creates several vignettes in which the characters deal with each situation as it presents itself. An inquiry between an investigator and a student is a textbook example of how NOT to lead an interrogation. Leading questions and false assumptions exist in abundance. An outburst at the Christmas Eve church service is another slack-jawed moment. But the acting is never given to histrionics. The Hunt shows remarkable restraint when detailing this miscarriage of justice. However at times the tension can be a bit frustrating. You keep wanting Lucas to proclaim his innocence more vehemently. His passivity is aggravating. A altercation in a grocery store is admittedly fascinating, but it is also a display in unwise behavior. Lucas, just step outside and call the police already!

The drama that unfolds is an emotional gut-wrenching slow burn exercise in how an investigation is handled in the worst way possible. We know immediately he is blameless so “did he?” or “didn‘t he?” questions are squelched from the start. In this way we side with Lucas and share in his degradation as he becomes the town outcast. Yet the events are never sensationalized. The director allows the audience to carefully examine how a lie becomes the truth. The script constructs a situation that slowly builds into a realistic tragedy of horrific proportions. Misinterpreted remarks and group hysteria are the recipe of this meticulously constructed screenplay. Co-written by director Vinterberg with Tobias Lindholm, the saga deals with similar themes found in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible and its depiction of the Salem Witch trials of the 17th century.  Sometimes the rush to judgment would rather deem a person guilty until proven innocent. It’s a cautionary tale that could’ve been set anywhere, including here in the U.S. True to the difficult nature of the film, even the ending suggests more problems are on the horizon. Uncomfortable viewing at its best.