The Hunt: A Reflection on Denmark’s History

This essay on Danish film The Hunt was written for World Cinema.

By Kitty Williams

The Hunt is a 2013 Danish film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of the fathers of Dogme 95. Dogme 95 was a short-lived film movement characterized by realism in every sense of the word. The film’s theme is also very much a part of Denmark’s reality. The film is a powerful portrayal of the severe damage an accusation of sexual abuse can do to a person. Lucas works at a day care for young children and is falsely accused of sexually abusing a young girl who happens to be the daughter of his best friend. Unfortunately, this is too often a reality in Denmark.

Dogme 95 is a film movement that was created by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, the director of The Hunt, in 1995. Films considered to be part of the Dogme 95 movement are required to follow a strict set of guidelines. There are ten guidelines, all of which stress the importance of maintaining reality. Though it does not abide by every rule, The Hunt holds onto some of the practices of Dogme 95. There are to be no special effects; a rule adhered to by The Hunt. The film is very visually simple, with shots of the houses, streets, and people of Denmark. The most visually exciting shots are of the colorful forests the hunted animals call home.

Dogme 95 also requires that a film is in color and does not have any non-diegetic music. The Hunt is in color, but it does include music. Music’s presence is so scarce, though, that it is hardly noticeable. Many scenes are plagued by silence, including the scene where Lucas walks around, bleeding from having been hit multiple times. His friends see him but stay away, waiting for him to leave. We see him continue to walk alone, limping, in complete silence. Ironically, another rule of Dogme 95 is that the director goes unlisted in the credits. The director of The Hunt (and the creator of this rule) is listed at the end of the film: Thomas Vintergberg.

The realism of the film extends into the themes that carry throughout. Sexual abuse is a serious topic and is at the center of the film. The main character, Lucas, is falsely accused of sexually abusing one of the children he takes care of at the day care. Unfortunately, Denmark has a history of sexual abuse cases. The number of reported cases was on the rise in 1997. As a result, Denmark began focusing on this issue and was very open with the public about the problem. One famous case, the “Tønder case,” put a spotlight on the issue. This case revealed that a man had been prostituting his daughter to many men. More cases of sexual abuse were found in the following years. Similarly, in the film after all the families with children at the day-care were notified of the accusation, they began looking for the warning signs in their children. Some parents saw symptoms where there weren’t any.

Films are a reflection of the society we live in. The Hunt, on the surface, is about a man who struggles to continue on with his ordinary life after being accused of sexually abusing a young girl from the day care he works at. Taking a deeper look, it is clear that this film is tackling the larger issues of Denmark’s society, still under the influence of the Dogme 95 film movement that was created by the director of the film alongside Lars von Trier.

Advertisements

Phoenix: Speak Low, Stand Tall

This essay about the German film Phoenix was written for World Cinema.

By Kitty Williams

Christian Petzold’s 2014 film Phoenix explores the emotional recovery two individuals must endure after World War II. After World War II, many films in Europe were very raw. The war was such a major influence on the world that films began to reflect the changes in a very real way. Nelly, a German Jewish woman is recovering physically and emotionally from her time in the concentration camps and the facial wound she sustained there. In her eyes, recovery means going back to the way things were rather than moving forward. Her husband, Johnny, is focused more on his own recovery financially. He believes her to be dead and his primary goal is to receive her inheritance. He does this by making Nelly over to look like Nelly, not realizing it is in fact her. Though this makeover satisfies both of their agendas in the beginning, it is Nelly who truly recovers, leaving Johnny with the guilt for what he has done to her. Phoenix approaches the raw truths of post-war life in a powerful way, getting at the core of relationships.

After the war, particularly for those who were released from concentration camps, life was very different. Those who were lucky enough to live to see their release from such torture emerged in a changed world. Nelly returns home from the concentration camp and is in the care of her friend Lene. She undergoes facial reconstruction surgery and emerges with a new face despite pleading for her old one. “I want to look exactly like I used to,” she says. This not because she was particularly fond of her appearance before the war, but because she was fond of her life before the war and she believes having that face back will bring a piece of that life back with it. Before the war, people were glamorized in movies with the use of lighting and costuming. After the war, this was not done as often. People were hardened to the realities of life. Similarly, in Phoenix, we hear from Nelly and others how beautiful she was before the war. She is not glamorized on camera but in memory. Now, her face sans makeup (in the beginning of the film) holds the realism of the post-war era. It is only when she feels back to her pre-war self that she begins to wear makeup and brightly colored dresses.

The film also deals with the very real emotional traumas raised by the war. Nelly’s husband believes her to be dead and yet when he sees her he believes her to be a lookalike that he can use to steal her inheritance. Lene tries to convince Nelly that he betrayed her to the Nazis, but she doesn’t listen. She allows him to dress her up to pull off his plan. She clings to the idea of being herself again and living her old life. She does it in an effort to reinsert herself into her old life when in actuality it is making her a spectator of her own life. Their interactions are less about their romantic relationship and more about the need they both have to make things better for themselves. For Johnny, that is money; for Nelly, that is reconnecting with who she was before the betrayal, concentration camp, and facial reconstruction.

War has a deep and lasting affect on everything, including cinema. In turn, it affects Phoenix’s Nelly and Johnny. The pre-war Nelly we hear about is a representation of pre-war cinema. The Nelly we see is in search of who she was, and strives to achieve this by pleading for her old face and going in search of her husband. She doesn’t want her face to look beautiful, or Johnny for romance, but for her old life. Though she fights to be her pre-war self, she has become a recovered version of herself.

Celebrating Shawshank Anniversary

the_shawshank_redemption_posterlarge_0-6751886701
Photo: Warner Bros. Studios

One would think there’s not much hope to be had after receiving two back-to-back life sentences in prison, but that’s just what Andy Dufresne has plenty of. On the 22nd anniversary of the release of The Shawshank Redemption, hope still resonates in the hearts of its viewers.

We meet Tim Robbins’s Andy Dufresne as he stands accused of murdering his wife and her lover. He is mysterious, and the flashbacks do not confirm his guilt. He doesn’t have the look of a criminal; in fact, he has the look of a man who cannot comprehend how or why he arrived at this juncture in his life. Not only does Andy have the look of an innocent man, but he has the persona of a man we’d like to have in our lives.

As the camera flies over Shawshank the first time we see it, the music evokes a melancholy feeling that would typically attend looking back on a fond yet sad memory. Red, played by Morgan Freeman, carries this nostalgic feeling in his voice as the narrator of the film. The second Andy Dufresne steps into Shawshank, we are like a bird perched on Red’s shoulder, seeing everything from his perspective. He walks around Shawshank like the respected mayor of a small town, a man who can get things done and a man who knows everything. Both his presence in Shawshank and his role as narrator are comforting to us. He becomes friends with Andy, a friendship that would last decades.

Andy is an innocent man making the best of the lot he has drawn, tragic as it may be. Throughout his time in the prison, he strives to make the lives of others better. He earns his fellow prisoners some nice cold beers, plays them some music on the loud speakers, and improves the prison library. Red is the one who can find a way to get items from outside the prison delivered to your cell, but Andy delivers the gift that is most essential in prison: hope.

Red thinks hope is a dangerous thing to hold onto in a prison. His view of life in Shawshank is very grim: “They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.” Andy, on the other hand, believes hope is the only thing worth holding onto in a prison. His famous words: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” Andy didn’t physically help Red escape, but he led him emotionally to freedom. He changed Red’s outlook and that new mindset is what led Red’s to his release.

Shawshank plays on audience assumptions. The viewer is kept in the dark about Andy’s escape, making it all the more powerful when we discover he has achieved just that. The film is misleading in all the best ways. Andy gets rope we assume will be used to hang himself but is used for his escape. Even his fellow prisoners become concerned when they discover he has gotten rope and has been acting unusual.

This is an adaptation of the novel “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King. Typically, adaptations are not so widely accepted and fail to emerge from the shadow of the original work. However, this adaptation is hardly ever mentioned in comparison to the novel. The film is its own being and is appreciated as such, and rightfully so. This film still stands at the top of best-movies-of-all-time lists after 22 years. The film may be from the 1990s and set in the 1940s to 1960s, but the lessons it teaches are timeless.

the_shawshank_redemption_photo_0-3899318071
Photo: Warner Bros. Studios

Stephen King is known for his horror and thriller novels that are prone to causing nightmares. Movies about prison in general are very dark and emotionally tiresome to watch. In Shawshank, there is rape, corruption, and murder. These may be troubling to witness, but are not gratuitous and do not overpower the greater message of the film.

It has been said that the mark of a good movie is that you think about it for a long while after you’ve seen it. Well, it has been over two decades and the world is still thinking about Andy, Red, and Shawshank. As Andy says, “No good thing ever dies.”

Twenty-two years later, we look back at The Shawshank Redemption as fondly as Red looks back on the people he met at Shawshank. Revisiting the film after all these years, we soar on the wings of the camera as it greets Shawshank. We feel like we are returning home.

The Conversation

the-conversation
Photo source: Indiewire

This was written as a response to The Conversation for History of Cinema class.

 

Harry Caul is a reserved man who puts just as much effort into maintaining secrecy in his own life as he does listening in on the secrets of others. Listening to private conversations is part of Caul’s job, but it brings him a lot of anxiety. The severity of some of the situations can take an emotional toll, especially on a man who would fall to pieces if the same boundaries were crossed in his own life.

The Conversation begins with an establishing shot of a crowded plaza. There are some robotic sounds and then the camera focuses in on a mime that is moving throughout the plaza and he moves towards a man standing on his own. At this point, we meet Harry Caul, a man who is lingering around the plaza with a few other men in an effort to record the conversation being had between two individuals. Because the two under surveillance are constantly moving in a bustling place, they are being recorded multiple ways. Caul spends a good deal of time afterwards trying to piece the different recordings together into one cohesive conversation.

Once he succeeds and realizes the serious nature of what was said, he tries to block it out, but the recordings plague his thoughts. From what he gathers from the conversation, two people are concerned that a man is going to kill them. He comes to this conclusion when he hears “He’d kill us if he had the chance,” but he doesn’t vocalize his concerns to anyone. This idea is never confirmed because the only information he has is from that one conversation. We assume based on what we hear, just as he does. We only find out at the end of the movie that they said “He’d kill us if he had the chance,” hinting at the fact that they are going to kill him before he kills them.

We learn throughout the movie that Harry Caul has found himself in trouble because of his work before. Lives have been lost because of his work and he feels guilty because of it. He goes to confession because the situation he finds himself in is taking a toll on him emotionally. He is constantly thinking about their conversation. When a former colleague bugs him at a convention, he becomes extremely upset. He begins to see the hypocrisy in his behavior.

Harry Caul is a very private man. He has multiple locks on his door but when he finds out that his landlady has a key in case of a fire, he argues that he wouldn’t care if a fire destroyed everything he owned because the only thing of importance to him is his key. He also is in a relationship with a woman who doesn’t know what he does for a living or how old he is. It is ironic how adamant he is about maintaining his privacy when he trespasses on the privacy of others all too frequently. He begins to recognize that throughout the movie. At the end of the movie when he receives a call that leads him to believe his apartment has been bugged, he tears it apart piece by piece as the camera scans his apartment like a surveillance camera. Eerie music plays during this scene to emphasize the state of paranoia that he has fallen into.

Harry Caul’s job puts him in situations that he would not handle so well should he be on the other side of them. After falling into paranoia at the end is unlikely he would ever return to bugging people again. Not only would that require he have no empathy whatsoever, but it would also require that he recover from the breakdown he suffers while tearing apart his home.

His Girl Friday

cary-grant-and-rosalind-r-001
Photo source: The Guardian

This was written as a response to His Girl Friday for History of Cinema class.

 

In His Girl Friday, Hildy is a reporter who attempts to leave her life as a reporter behind. Walter, her ex-husband and former boss, schemes in an effort to keep her there. However, Hildy would have stayed in the newspaper business even if Walter hadn’t manipulated her and tricked her into writing another story. She would have found an excuse to stay. She is built for the life of a reporter and would not have been able to survive in a life where her role was just to be some man’s wife.

The movie opens with Hildy walking into the newspaper office so she can talk with Walter, her former boss and former husband. We learn during their conversation that the entire reason she showed up that day was to tell him she was engaged. But this is information that could have been sent in a letter or over the phone. Yet she decided to actually show up to the office to tell him. She knows what kind of person he is and that he is capable of manipulating people. Knowing this, it was silly of her to go into the office to tell Walter that she is leaving the newspaper business for good and becoming a wife. She knows this will anger him not only because he was once married to her but also because he knows she is a talented reporter who they cannot afford to lose. She must realize that he would do everything in his power to try and keep her there.

When Walter begins to get Bruce involved, Hildy realizes it and lets it happen. She takes almost every single dollar Bruce has both on his person and to his name because she knows that Walter will try and get his hands on it one way or another. Then later, when Walter gives Bruce a check, Hildy tells him to keep it in the lining of his hat. Hildy is aware of Walter’s little tricks he plays.

Showing up in Walter’s office was in a way Hildy’s last cry for help. She doesn’t really want Bruce or the “normal” life that he offers her up in Albany. Deep down she knows she should stay in the newspaper business but needs an excuse. Walter makes many excuses and though he tries his best and causes many problems for Hildy throughout the movie, it is really being back in the newspaper business atmosphere that draws Hildy back in. One of the reporters says “Did you hear Hildy when that bell went off? She could never leave.” Then later, when Hildy is writing the story for the newspaper on Earl Williams and Bruce is trying to talk to her at the same time she completely ignores Bruce. She becomes so immersed in her reporting that nothing else matters to her. It takes her quite a while after finishing the story to realize that Bruce even made an appearance in the office.

Hildy would have stayed at the newspaper even if Walter hadn’t manipulated everyone around him in an effort to keep her there. Hildy went to the office because she couldn’t stay away and needed to go just one last time. She thought she would have the will power to leave but she did not. Walter tried his best to keep her there but in the end she made the decision all on her own. Hildy didn’t need Walter’s manipulation and scheming to keep her there, she decided on that herself the moment she stepped through the door into