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Thomas Vinterberg’s gripping drama “The Hunt” is the story of a lie, and how that lie changes both a man and a town. Lucas (Mads Mikkelson) is a teacher at a kindergarten in a small Danish town; though struggling through a bad divorce, he’s happy with his job and his community of friends. One day, a 5-year-old named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), annoyed because Lucas told her not to kiss him, tells another teacher a story about Lucas, inspired by a graphic photograph shown to her by her teenage brother. We know the story isn’t true, but the teacher believes that children never lie about such things. Just like that, Lucas’ contentment is shattered; he, who enjoys shooting deer on weekends with his buddies, becomes a hunted man.

Vinterberg, who based the story on his own encounter with a Danish child psychologist interested in repressed memory, lets the details pile up relentlessly: First it’s just little Klara’s story, then we hear other children have chimed in, then it becomes a tale so preposterous you wonder how anyone could believe it. Mikkelson wonderfully conveys a man who seems to become paler and smaller before our eyes: shunned by his friends; banned from the grocery store; a pariah at the local church’s Christmas Eve service, where others move so as not to sit in his pew. Lucas’ teenage son (Lasse Fogelstrøm) struggles to understand how this could be happening; his best friend (Thomas Bo Larsen), who happens to be Klara’s father, looks as though he’s in torment — but sides with his child.

Through it all, we see an idyllic-looking community, where glorious fall colors fade into twinkling December snow — a pretty frame for a terrifying story of a modern-day witch hunt. The camera lingers on the innocent eyes of Klara, who doesn’t really understand what’s happened, and the haunted, gaunt face of Lucas, who wonders, even to the final scene, if this nightmare will ever end.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or