photo_05As one can expect from the director who made a name for himself with the Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg’s the Hunt (Jagten) feels like a brutal roller coaster of victimization with the audience’s sympathy clearly placed on the protagonist’s shoulders. It’s a brilliant piece of emotional manipulation that will hopefully enhance one’s own awareness to rash judgments of those accused and persecuted solely based around the horror of the crime they are alleged to have committed.

With his new film, Vinterberg, who co-wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm, proves himself a director comfortably in tune with his craft. The film stars Mads Mikkelsen, who won best actor at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Lucas. In a rather cruel play on dramatic irony, Lucas becomes the target of a witch hunt after a child fibs that he had molested her. News spreads like a virus among the inhabitants of the Danish small town. Lucas and the girl’s relationship is clearly set up so as to be apparent that Lucas is innocent, and the reason behind the child’s thoughtless lie comes from a childish sense of retribution. But only the audience is allowed to see this. The results of the lie then have a downward-spiral effect on Lucas’ job, friendships, family and social standing in the town where everyone knows everybody.

One circumstance after another piles up, leaving the audience feeling as helpless as the film’s protagonist considering the amount of information shared only between the persecuted Lucas and the viewer. Horrors are committed that feel especially cruel considering the dramatic irony that fuels the Hunt. Normally I would not forgive a film that plays with dramatic irony to such a cruel, manipulative hilt,THE HUNT_Photo by Per Arnesen 3 but because the Hunt offers such a harsh indictment to the quick judgments that are practically the bread-and-butter of so many news shows (think Nancy Grace in the U.S.), I feel it’s worth forgiving. It’s a situation that fuels biases on either side of the recent George Zimmerman verdict that sparked rallies across the U.S. over the weekend. Previously, it happened following the trial of another Florida character, Casey Anthony, who was accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter but acquitted. As much as the theme of the Hunt is timeless it also stands timely, and many could use a wake-up call like the Hunt.

Heightening the film’s drama is precision pacing and clean shooting by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. In fact, the idyllic village with its surrounding forests is beautifully shot, as the Dogme style of home video/natural light featured in the Celebration— as interesting as it was— has long outlived its relevance. Instead, in the Hunt cinematic techniques are used traditionally to seduce the viewer into the film so one might sympathize with the protagonist.

Everyone seems a threat to poor Lucas. Christensen shoots the children at their own eye-level, framing them in positions that speak to their power in affecting the story. photo_04A sense of dread permeates the interactions by the suspicious adults not long after the accusations become fodder for whispers behind Lucas’ back. It all culminates with a scene that offers an ambiguous note that should encourage discussion.

Mikkelsen, who has been gaining more and more recognition in his slowly building career, currently highlighted by his performance as Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s new television series “Hannibal,” gives a strong performance. He plays fragile and desperate with shaky ease. But the real highlight is the story and how Vinterberg squeezes out all he can from frustrating dramatic irony that will aggravate some and enthrall others.

Hans Morgenstern

The Hunt runs 115 minutes, is in Danish, Polish and English with English subtitles and is rated R (it’s violent and disturbing, but young people of a certain age could have something to learn from this). It premiered in South Florida at this year’s Miami International Film Festival, during which an early version of this review first ran. The Hunt opens this week in South Florida at most indie film houses. It premieres July 25 at O Cinema in Miami. Then, it appears at the following theaters on July 26 (click names for ticket info):

Miami Beach Cinematheque
Tower Theater
Cosford Cinema
Cinema Paradiso

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


Day 2 of the Miami International Film Festival provided the experience I was looking forward to most about the 30th edition of this event: an intimate experience with the world of cinema. It began with a riveting discussion on the state of film criticism by some the industry’s busiest film critics in the US, and ended with two screenings at the Olympia Theater in Downtown Miami. One of the films was a world premiere, the other the latest from one of Denmark’s most vital filmmakers second only to Lars von Trier.

The day began at the Miami Beach Cinematheque where an audience of some of the more hardcore film attendees sat rapt for almost two hours, as four of the U.S.’s more influential film critics discussed their industry. They included:

David Edelstein (“New York Magazine,” NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “CBS Sunday Morning” [my favorite morning TV news show around])

Leah Rozen (“The Wrap,” “People Magazine”)

Claudia Puig (“USA Today”)

Kim Voynar (“Movie City News,” “Cinematical”).

Led by Miami’s Dan Hudak (“Hudak on Hollywood,” WLRN and chairman of the Florida Film Critics Circle), who could barely get a word in edgewise, it only took a few questions to get a variety of views from a group of people wired for discourse. Edelstein was the more contrarian of the bunch, which kept the conversation nice and dynamic. He pushed the basic tenet for anyone who wants to write film criticism: “Write and write and write and re-write and read everything.”

Critics panel at the Miami International Film Festival. Photo by Hans Morgenstern

Puig noted anyone who wants to write about film should “get a life.” Though her advice may seem condescending at face value, she elaborated on the wit loaded in her comment. Criticism is a lonely business, but it must also be a well-informed business that comes from the school of life.

Rozen illuminated Puig’s point by adding film students should consider double majoring in things outside of film school, including the social sciences like political science or anthropology (I would add psychology and literature, where my experience also stems from).

Voynar, the youngest of the group, addressed the concern of many trying their hand at this game: money. This is not a passion to follow for money, and aspiring critics need to expect to write for free. Film criticism is about a passion for an art that trumps any desire for making money. If cinema is a true wholehearted interest of any writer, money will come. But going around demanding and asking for it will get you ignored fast.

That was only the start of a discussion that enforced some of my own views on film writing, including a studious desire “to watch films analytically,” according to Rozen. All agreed what a waste of time writers are who summarize films and provide little to no insight into the craft, a rookie mistake of many aspiring film writers.

I think I most learned from Edelstein who spoke about his own struggles with finding his voice. He began by indulging in all first person, reactionary pieces to distant John Updike-like observational.  I tend toward the latter, which made me feel as though I still have something to learn. I was relieved to hear some constructive advice that proves my theory that, as a writer, one never masters writing but always strives to master it.

Finally, they defended bloggers such as I. At the end of the panel, an audience member asked a question deriding the seeming self-appointed nature of bloggers. They all agreed that though the blogosphere is full of clear amateurs who are not hard to spot, it has some voices that rival their own peers. “Some are absolutely amazing and do it for love,” one of them said.

After this most stimulating panel (already this post is too long), it was off to a happy hour at the festival’s official hotel, the Standard. The hotel bar was filled with so many people I should have known but hardly recognized, as I have this inherit problem with names and faces and no interest in the celebrity game. I wound up chatting with Edelstein some more and Canadian actor/director Don McKellar (sheesh, just noticed he played Yevgeny Nourish in Cronenberg’s masterpiece eXistenZ). I also met Puig there who ended up being my movie date for both screenings that night. On the way to the Olympia theater in Downtown Miami, I saw her outside waiting for a van she might have missed, so I offered her a ride.


The first movie we saw was the world premiere of the Boy Who Smells Like Fish, a film I was drawn to because I know someone who has the disease trimethylaminuria. The film, which also features McKellar, by first-time director Analeine Cal y Mayor approached the disease with a sense of humor that reached for Wes Anderson heights of quirk. Featuring Douglas Smith and Zoë Kravitz (daughter of Lenny), the film came from a sincere place, but the script, co-written by Cal y Mayor and Javier Gullón, both from Spain, was uneven and at times contrived. Kravitz gave it her sincere best, and the movie worked when it embraced its silly side most unabashedly. Conjuring up the long-lost Mexican singing “legend” Guillermo Garibai (a happy-go-lucky “most intereting man” performance by Gonzalo Vega) to give advice for the sad-sack titular boy (a passionless Smith), almost rescues the film. Hiwever, it arrives too late into the movie, which mostly dwells on the boy’s morose suffering.

Much of the cast and crew from Spain and Canada (plus actress Carrie-Anne Moss who has a part) were present for the screening. The applause was kind, but no standing ovation. Director Cal Y Mayor was forgotten at the film’s introduction by the film’s producer, Niv Fichman, and she admitted her nervousness about the film’s reception. She was sweet, and I hope the film works for her in some way, but judging from the night, the battle seems quite steep for this film to gain any attention at future screenings.

Some of the cast of the Boy Who Smells Like Fish at the Miami International Film Festival. Photo by Hans Morgenstern.

Lackluster films only serve to enhance anything that follows, and that happened during the second film of the night: Thomas Vinterberg’s the Hunt. The way cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen shot the children, so key to the film’s plot, even stood above the night’s previous film.

Vinterberg, who co-wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm  proved himself a director comfortably in tune with his craft. The film, which stars Mads Mikkelsen, who won best actor at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Lucas, is a rather cruel play on dramatic irony. After a child’s fib goes viral among the inhabitants of Danish small town, Lucas becomes the target of a witch hunt.

As one can expect from the director who made a name for himself with the Celebration, the film becomes a brutal rollercoaster of victimization with the audiences’ sympathy clearly placed on Lucas’ shoulders. THE HUNT_Photo by Per Arnesen 3It’s a brilliant piece of emotional manipulation that will hopefully enhance one’s own awareness to rash judgments of those accused and persecuted solely based around the horror of the crime they are alleged to have committed.

The Hunt ends on an ambiguous note that encourages discussion. We wound up standing outside the Olympia with several other local cinema enthusiasts, including a pair of my colleagues in local cinema criticism: FFCC member Reuben Pereira and the Hialeah Examiner’s Steve Mesa. Despite it being a cold night in the low 50s, we stood outdoors considering the film’s theme, approach and performances for some time.

Next post: a preview of Day 3, for which I have some more interesting published preview writing to share…

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

A Royal Affar - poster artToo often, period films are often dismissed as “costume drama.” This reductive perspective does a disservice to a genre of cinema that, in the right hands, can offer history that illuminates the present as much as recreate the past. Recently, independent movie studios have brought some amazing period films focused on the late 18th century to U.S. art houses.  Mozart’s Sister re-imagined the sister of the child prodigy as an ahead-of-her-time go-getter (review). Farewell My Queen focused on the skittish malaise of Marie Antoinette as the ruling class hoarded their riches while peasants starved, a prescient drama considering all the talk of the increasing divide of the financial classes in today’s age (I could not help but review it in tandem with the documentary the Queen of Versailles). Though the stories of these films take place during the end of the Age of Enlightenment, they also seem to have a knack for illuminating society in today’s current time.

Now comes the Danish film A Royal Affair, recently announced as a Best Foreign Language contender for the Oscar® (it lost to Amour during for the Golden Globes in the same category [my review for Amour comes next week]). Let the title not misinform you, this film explores much more than a queen cheating on her king with one of his subjects. The drama may be between the German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), the queen of Denmark, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), and her man-child king, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) for whom the doctor was hired to tend to, but this triangle only offers the human backdrop for the larger story. Director Nikolaj Arcel uses humor and sexual tension peppered with the conflict of ideas of the Enlightenment (or the Age of Reason) versus the church to create a dynamic film that maintains a brisk pace, despite its two-hour-15-minute runtime.

Beyond the tension of the triangle there are those hovering in the corners of the drama. These are people more interested in maintaining power than new ideas of human rights, one of the accepted wisdoms of Rousseau, a writer Struensee and Caroline both enjoy reading. Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander in A ROYAL AFFAIR, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.Christian’s mother Juliane Marie (Trine Dyrholm) constantly plots her control over her son and manipulates one God-fearing handmaiden who tends to the Queen to onerous effect. Meanwhile, the lawmakers and money grubbers on the council use Christian for his disinterest in what seems mere bureaucracy to their own advantage.

The control of the court over free thought was so strong that when Caroline, the daughter of the Prince of Wales, arrives at the palace set to marry Christian, some of her books are confiscated, as they are censored by Danish law. It is a tragic moment considering she is first established as an educated young woman, who learns fluent Danish before the arranged marriage. She also seems excited about marrying a king, until she meets the man who introduces himself by playing peekaboo from behind a tree. His attitude brings to mind Tom Hulce playing Mozart in Amadeus. Christian has no manners even in his gait and enjoys hopping around with his dog above talking with his new wife (Følsgaard won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at last year’s Berlin Film Festival).

When Christian leaves for a long tour of Europe and does not come back, Struensee, a well-known doctor who works in the town, is hired to cure Christian of his madness. In a series of witty scenes, Struensee will show the power of a dog whisperer to coax Christian to show some responsibility. 492023_largeThough Christian remains a sort of wild creature of Id, he ends up admiring his doctor so much that he even mimics Struensee’s movements when they both stretch after a run. Praise for Mikkelsen should not be underplayed, as he embodies Struensee with both noble restraint and a comfortable frankness in ease that carries a refreshing air. I last saw him playing the mute, one-eyed savage in Valhalla Rising, a profoundly different creature.

There are many dense, loaded scenes throughout a Royal Affair that never linger too long and push the action along while illuminating enlightened thinking and its repercussion on human behavior. When people are repressed, there’s often a tension ready to explode. One of the more dramatic moments occurs before Struensee arrives, when Caroline gives birth to Frederick VI. As she screams while pushing during delivery, the king’s tutor tells her, “A true queen delivers in silence and with dignity.” She responds by yelling louder in the direction of the tutor, as she continues to push. It’s a sly symbolic and visceral moment of the old vision versus the enlightened spirit, repressed in Caroline at this point in the film.

As Struensee makes progress with Christian, the king asks him to see to his wife’s growing depression. Like any good doctor, Struensee, who also seems to show a grasp of psychology, uses a different approach for the intellectual Caroline. Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen in ‘A Royal Affair.’ Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.They share thoughts on Rousseau, and he lends her the books he has brought to the palace. But it’s not all chit-chat. He also prescribes that she ride horseback. She dismisses it as a “clumsy” exercise. He replies with a twinkle in his eye, “Because you ride side-saddle.” With the next brisk cut, Caroline is running a horse like no tomorrow, bliss— and maybe some sexuality— all over her grinning face.

A Royal Affair does much to maintain pace and balance while keeping things interesting on both a dramatic and intellectual level. As Struensee and the queen exchange thoughts you cannot help but wonder where enlightenment and reason has gone in today’s time. Lines like, “Who is more disturbed? The king or someone who believes the earth was made in six days?” have an obvious purpose to rile up such thoughts.

The film’s drama lies in such disparate ways of thinking and how it affects society. Enlightened thinkers like Rousseau and Struensee called for a humanitarianism that should, in the end, benefit everyone. Struensee’s advice to the king encourages him to find an interest in ruling. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard and Mads Mikkelsen in A ROYAL AFFAIR, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.It becomes something more than hoarding riches while squeezing every last drop out of the citizenry. But along with it comes a naiveté, as the movie so gradually reveals. As the trio grows blissfully close on social reforms, Struensee and the queen grow soulfully close. Those on the king’s court more interested in power will learn how adapt and take advantage of the system and undermine it.

The tragic unraveling happens at as brisk a pace as it is all set up. Though the film is long, it remains efficient throughout and never dialogue-heavy and meandering. Scenes on average last maybe a minute and the dialogue always has an illuminating character while also pushing the action along.

Of course as a “costume drama,” one must consider how Arcel captures the era, and he does so with exquisite detail. The lighting always seems natural, from scenes in sun-drenched rooms to those in candlelight. The cinematography is often sensitive and intimate. Alicia Vikander in ‘A Royal Affair.’ Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.The shallow focus never calls too much attention to itself, but rather illuminates the atmosphere. The art direction is always much more than superficial. There are dark, unlit rooms for dark times. In early scenes, the brilliant colors of the carriages contrasted with the rat-infested grime of the street, reminds the viewer of the class tension of the era.

From acting to art direction and story that transcends melodrama, A Royal Affair is a smart, well-paced movie with ideas and a sense of drama. On an all-encompassing level, the film deserves the recognition it has garnered. As luscious as it is, its only fault may be that it is all too perfect and precisely executed. However, it captures the tension between ideas of the Enlightenment and religion while maintaining a human sense of drama like no other period film I have ever seen.

Hans Morgenstern


A Royal Affair is Rated R (expect sex and period brutality of torture and be-headings), runs 137 min. and is in Danish and French with English subtitles. Magnolia Pictures provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It opens in South Florida at the following theaters on Friday, Jan. 18:

Tower Theater, Miami
O Cinema, Miami Shores
Bill Cosford Cinema, Coral Gables
South Beach 18, Miami Beach
Gateway 4, Fort Lauderdale
Living Room Cinema, Boca Raton
Movies of Delray 5, Delray Beach
Movies at Lake Worth, Lake Worth
Lake Worth Playhouse, Lake Worth
Update: A Royal Affair will screen for two nights, 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Jan. 29 and 31.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)