A Danish kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen, Best Actor winner at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival) becomes the victim of his village’s collective paranoia when he is falsely accused of abusing a child.
Although it never shirks from showing how unfounded suspicions destroy lives, this excellent drama from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (Festen) and writer Tobias Lindhom (A Hijacking) has a wonderfully sly sense of understatement about it. There’s no music, except to show the passing of time, no melon-smashing SFX when punches fly, and although events do spiral out of control, the method of recounting them never does.
Lucas (Mikkelsen) is a kindergarten helper loved by the children. One morning little Klara (Anika Wedderkop) gives him a card; later it’s a kiss. Then she tells his boss, “I hate Lucas, he has a willie!” It’s an innocent comment, but the seeds are sown. The townsfolk believe the worst of Lucas, and so begins a forest fire of accusations and recriminations that threatens to burn everything down.
Although he is better known for playing larger-than-life villains (Le Chiffre in Bond, TV’s Hannibal Lector), Mikkelsen gives a subtle, dignified performance. Young Wedderkop is just as good, a sad, confused little girl at the centre of a storm she doesn’t understand. “I forgot to look where I was going, all of a sudden I was here,” she says when she meets Lucas outside the shops. It’s a good metaphor for the unintended horrors of what happens next.
Like Lucas’s hunting buddies – always egging each other on to jump into freezing lakes or play childish drinking games, the community functions with a frightening pack mentality. And once the pack turns on you, as Lucas discovers, there’s no turning back.