Thomas Vinterberg first came to the Cannes Film Festival in 1998 with Festen, a Danish movie, which in English means Celebration. Festen was anything but celebratory.
A black comedy which blows away the joyous mood in a family gathering when a skeleton of childhood sexual abuse pops out of the closet, Festen reminded one of Mira Nair's 2001 Monsoon Wedding.
The work, which won the Golden Lion at Venice (the second Indian picture after Satyajit Ray's Aparajito to have clinched this honour) also had a gripping subtext dealing with paedophilia.
Vinterberg - who along with the enfant terrible of Danish cinema, Lars Von Trier, founded Dogma 95, a radical movement to take film back to its roots - returned to Cannes in 2012 with The Hunt.
The movie, which is one of the five nominees for the foreign language Oscar, is also dark, dealing yet again with paedophilia. Only this time, Vinterberg bases his plot on a lie - if one may call it so. For, it emerges from the runaway imagination of a mere child. The Hunt is explosively riveting, often threatening to spin out of control, the protagonist's helplessness utterly devastating.
In what is considered as the Danish auteur's most engaging film after The Celebration, The Hunt centres on a kindergarten school teacher, who has been wrongly accused of molesting a girl child.
Propelled by Mads Mikkelsen's hauntingly restrained lead performance as Lucas, the teacher, the movie impacts you with not a single false note. Narrating what is the core point -- the way gossip and children's imagination can prove horribly ruinous -- The Hunt underlines the fragility of trust even between two close friends. The child is Lucas' student and daughter of his best friend.
Lucas is a respected member of a small deer-hunting community who is trying to salvage his life after a messy divorce and job loss when a little girl, provoked by an internet image, says that the man exposed himself. This starts the film's nightmarish chain of events, and though the innocent Lucas is exonerated in the end, the last frame reveals how some accusations stick.
Stories of witch hunt and child sexual abuse are common and have been presented on the screen for years. Yet, The Hunt shocks us, particularly because of the way the community is blinded by hearsay and gossip.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran watched The Hunt at Cannes)