Holy Motors and Jagten (The Hunt) in one day. That is some pretty challenging film watching. The two movies played one after the other. Which makes for a pretty potent question-the-world combination.

I know the name Thomas Vinterberg from his involvement in the Dogme ’95 filmmaking movement that was all the rage several years ago. But I went in to watch his latest movie Jagten without prior knowledge that he had directed it. I had also managed to forget that Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award for his performance in this movie at the most recently concluded Cannes Film Festival.

So we settled in to watch the movie knowing only that it was about Lucas (Mikkelsen), a kindergarten teacher who finds himself in a whole lot of trouble because of a lie that someone tells. Oh boy, was that ever a short-selling synopsis of the movie!

The lie in question is told by Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), a little girl at the kindergarten Lucas works at. Added bonus: she is his best friend’s daughter. While we are shown all the elements that went into constructing the lie, there is no real way to deal with the horror of the moment when it comes. And all the moments that follow, that heighten the horror of the outcome from that lie.

Klara absently accuses Lucas of having sexually abused her–no that’s not correct, she accuses him of having exposed himself to her. It is Grethe (Susse Wold), the teacher to whom Klara lies, who assumes that he actually molested her. When she tells other people she begins the snowball effect that totally ruins Lucas’s life.

He is suspended from work, his son is not allowed to come live with him, the woman he is attracted to doubts him when he says he didn’t touch Klara or any other child in an inappropriate way, and soon the entire town is up in arms against him.

As the narrative progresses we can only bear mute witness to the extent Lucas’s life is thrown into turmoil by an innocent lie. Allow the idea of what a truly malicious person could do with a few well-placed words to unravel a perfectly normal life and you’re guaranteed to become paralyzed with fear.

Jagten has got to be one of the scariest horror movies I’ve seen in recent times. That the villain of the piece is an innocent-looking little girl allows Mr. Vinterberg and his filmmaking partners to illustrate that filmed storytelling has been going in the wrong direction trying to wring scares out of big bang moments. This quiet, meditative tale will do more to instill fear in the average civilized human being than all the sound and makeup effects ever could.



Holy Motors
Filmmaker Leos Carax has not made a film since 1999. Holy Motors is only his fifth feature in twenty eight years. And what a feature it is. I’ve been obliquely aware of the raves this movie has received at most of the festivals it has been screened at. I paid little attention because I didn’t think we’d have any chance of seeing it until it was out on DVD.

I also knew that it was a ‘difficult’ film so I chose to go into the screening having read as little as I could about it. And I think that was a smart decision.

Denis Lavant plays Oscar, a man who is driven around the city of Paris in a white stretch limousine by Céline (Edith Scob) to various assignments. Each assignment comes with a dossier that could tell him a little (or a lot) about the character he is going to embody.

On the day that we follow Oscar around Paris he has nine assignments. He plays characters as diverse as a father to a teenaged girl, a hitman, a sewer-dwelling vagrant who kidnaps a model (played wordlessly by Hollywood actress Eva Mendes), and an old dying man. Each of these characters lives inside a narrative that has been requested by an unseen audience. Or so we assume.

The film raises questions about voyeurism, the nature (and role) of cinema, of people in each other’s lives, and offers nods to the technology being employed in the creation of movies themselves. Mr. Lavant is really quite fascinating to watch and he inhabits the skin of some of the characters so effectively, it sometimes takes a moment or two to realize that it is still the same actor we have been journeying with throughout the film.

Some segments of the film play better than others and I have to say–inside the cavernous hall of Jamshed Bhabha Theatre–I probably experienced the largest manifestation of collective nervous laughter at various points during this movie.

I’m glad I watched this movie. But I’m not so sure I’ll rush to seek out the director’s other works in a hurry. I still think my brain needs to develop to be able to properly process works at this level of difficulty.