Film

CinemaDope: Sticks and Stones

The power of the word

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Per Arnesen photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
The Hunt

First off, a mea culpa. A couple of columns back, I made a little mistake. I was covering a local screening of Lawrence of Arabia, and while rushing to meet a deadline I zigged when I should have zagged, naming Alec Guinness as the man who played the title role. Of course, that’s not true—Peter O’Toole played Lawrence, while the future Obi-Wan Kenobi played Prince Faisal.

Once it was caught, the Advocate quickly updated the online version of the column, but of course it was too late to do anything about the print edition. Still, you might think it was an understandable error. I did. But then the letters started coming in, mostly from people who wrote simply to tell me what a fool I was. Now, nobody who writes for the public will last long if that sort of thing gets to him. But while the letters themselves came and went, it surprised me a bit to realize that after six years of CinemaDope, the most impassioned letters I’ve received have not been about great movies, but little mistakes. We may be a more visual society with each passing day, but for now, words are still what gets our blood going.

I was reminded of that by the coming release of Thomas Vinterberg’s new film The Hunt. Starring Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (NBC’s Hannibal), Vinterberg’s story is one of doubt and fear and the power of a few words. Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award at last year’s Cannes festival for his portrayal of Lucas, a former school teacher who is beginning to recover from a job loss and a draining divorce. But just when it seems that his life is opening up again—he has a new job, and his girlfriend is moving in—a girl in the kindergarten where Lucas works unintentionally implicates him in an act of sexual misconduct.

Immediately, the people of the tightly knit Danish town come together in their condemnation, falling into a state of near-hysteria as they compound each other’s worst fears. Making matters worse is that the girl, Klara, is the daughter of Lucas’ best friend, Theo; while in almost any other case his friend would be there to support him, here that’s impossible. Instead, Lucas is ostracized, so despised that his dog is attacked, and the employees of the local grocery store beat him when he comes to buy food.

Only we know the truth behind Klara’s story. The tension that arises from that hidden truth will be familiar to filmgoers who know Vinterberg’s 1998 film The Celebration, which itself described a tragedy born of childhood abuse. That film centered on a single family, but though this new story encompasses an entire town, it is, if anything, even more intimate. And while we know that the man at the heart of the tale is innocent, what we know may not be enough to save him.

 

Also this week: For a lighter take on the power of patter, head to Shelburne Falls this weekend for a showing of the Marx Brothers masterpiece Duck Soup. Presented by Pothole Pictures and screening on July 26 and 27 at the town’s Memorial Hall, the 1933 hit—a satire that takes on politics, war, and government debt—is as up to date as anything you’ll find on The Daily Show. (In a bit of poetic irony, the Library of Congress has selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry.) In it, the tiny state of Freedonia is under a bit of financial stress that only the wealthy widow Mrs. Teasdale can alleviate—but before she signs on, she insists that the oddball Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) be appointed president, leading to all manner of mayhem. At least one man saw the potential power of the Marx men’s antics: just as the film was released, the mayor of Fredonia, N.Y. (note: one “e”) wrote to complain that people might come to associate his historic town with the film. Groucho’s reply is as sharp today as it was then: “Your Excellency: Our advice is that you change the name of your town. It is hurting our picture.”

 

And finally, for those of you who are finding much of your new media via Netflix: try tuning in to Orange Is The New Black, a new original series developed by the online giant. Based on the memoir of the same name by Smith College alum Piper Kerman, it tracks her unusual history: from college student to money launderer and drug trafficker all the way to federal inmate. After a strong premiere this month, a second season has already been announced—get in on the ground floor now.•

 

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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