Thomas Vinterberg interview

Time Out speaks to the director of 'The Hunt'

Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg, 43, burst onto the scene with 1998’s ‘Festen’, a provocative family drama born from the back-to-basics Dogme movement he conceived with Lars Von Trier.

Since then his wayward trajectory includes the barely categorisable sci-fi-romance ‘It’s All About Love’ (2003), but his latest film, ‘The Hunt’ – an intense drama which won Mads Mikkelsen Best Actor at Cannes for his portrayal of a kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of child abuse – is seen as a major return to form. Trevor Johnston meets him.

This is a story about child abuse, but how did you decide to tell it in this specific way?

‘It started when a psychologist gave me a case history to read. The idea was to avoid a documentary-style path of showing investigations and court proceedings, and instead follow an emotional journey with one man. It was about getting to the sort of tiny details which don’t make it into official reports. So it became like a Hans Christian Andersen story about loss of innocence, the entrance of evil from the outside.’

And there was never any doubt hanging over Mads Mikkelsen’s protagonist?

‘No. I wanted the audience to be close to this guy, and there’s no way that can happen if there’s any possibility he touched a child.’

At the same time, you obviously didn’t want to demonise the little girl who falsely accuses him?

‘Yeah, but I don’t know how successful I’ve been. Some people hate her, which I find very troubling. She’s very attached to this teacher who pays attention to her, but when he rejects her, she punishes him with an innocent lie. Of course, genuine abuse happens, but there are instances where parents and authorities asking the same questions again and again plants a seed in a child’s head and creates a traumatic memory. That’s a violation of the child.’

Your main focus is on the accused. Do some people find his reaction too passive?

‘Well, there was clapping in Cannes when he finally fights back! I guess he’s a very Scandinavian, half-castrated, humbled human being who really tests the goodness of his surroundings. He’s not passive, he’s civilised, and he’s doing the right thing. I guess we just don’t expect that from movies.’

Mads Mikkelsen is outstanding in the role. Was it written for him?

‘No, I was thinking more of a “The Deer Hunter” kind of young Robert De Niro. In the script it was a tough, working-class hero. Then Mads came on board, and it was, like, here’s this stallion of a man, it might be interesting to play against that. So, we reworked it and he became this civilised teacher who eventually has to step outside himself and start head-butting people.’

The theme of abuse connects ‘The Hunt’ and ‘Festen’. How do you look back on the earlier film now?

‘Well, it was a big success, but the whole Dogme thing was something I could take no further. I had to start all over again and redefine myself, which left me very vulnerable and created many painful experiences, but also some work I’m very proud of. For instance, “It’s All About Love” is my most courageous film. I guess the dust has settled now, but I like being on thin ice. I may yet get into trouble again.’

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