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Charlotte Bruus Christensen Creates Mounting Tension in ‘The Hunt’

Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen recounts her early discussions with director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) before production commenced on The Hunt, a raw drama from Denmark starring Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) as a man wrongly accused of molesting a young girl. The film, she says, “is about a ‘virus.’ And this virus is the lie that everyone he knows comes to believe. Once someone gets the virus, they can never really get rid of it.”

Mads Mikkelsen in

The Hunt

. Photo by Charlotte Bruus-Christensen/Magnolia Pictures.

Vinterberg has long since moved beyond the rigid filmmaking principles of the famous Dogme 95 movement he started with Lars von Trier and other Danish filmmakers, but The Hunt stands as an example of that kind of taut, dramatic filmmaking with minimal cinematic artifice. Christensen, who also shot the director’s previous effort, Submarino, explains Vinterberg’s approach today: “Thomas would say it doesn’t have to be realistic but it has to be real.”

To that end, they storyboarded certain climactic scenes closely, while allowing for considerable improvisation in others, and they consciously altered formal aspects such as lighting and framing in a more traditionally cinematic way than was allowed in the Dogme days.

Christensen shot with an ARRI Alexa Plus with a set of the new Cooke Panchro primes and an ARRI Alura Lightweight zoom for the occasional subtle push-in when a dolly shot would have brought too much attention to the camera work. She recorded in Log C format to ProRes 4444 to capture as much picture information as possible without having to add an external recorder. “It would have been difficult with our budget,” she says of an ARRIRAW recording setup, adding, “A lot of the film is handheld and I happened to be eight months pregnant when we were shooting!”

Mads Mikkelsen and Alexandra Rapaport. Photo by Per Arnesen/Magnolia Pictures

The events of the film take place between fall and winter as a simple misstatement told by a kindergartener spreads throughout the town where Mikkelsen’s character lives. “At the beginning of the film,” Christensen recalls, “it’s autumn with golden leaves and reflected warm light everywhere. The camera is handheld and the compositions are very loose, very relaxed.

“Then, when he’s told for the first time in the kindergarten that he’s been accused, he’s in a tight close-up. The camera is completely static and I put a direct spotlight right on his face. He’s literally in the spotlight. Now there’s a tension in the compositions that wasn’t there before. And we get tighter and tighter on him until we get to a climactic moment where we hold on an extreme close-up of just his eye.”

Though the film was shot digitally, Christensen says she still likes to think of the Alexa as an 800-speed film stock and to light and filter as necessary to get as much of what will be the final image on the sensor as possible. She suggests it might be because hers was among the last classes at the National Film and Television School in London to do the majority of their work on celluloid, but she still relies primarily on a meter rather than a station of monitors and scopes, and she embraces the use of glass filtration on the lens rather building a look in post.

She used Tiffen’s Antique Suede to add to the warm, autumnal feeling in the beginning of The Hunt, as well as Black Pro-Mist throughout. “It just does beautiful things to skin,” she says. “People say you can do the same thing in the DI and you have more choice and you don’t lose stop and blah blah blah. But I did tests both ways and Thomas and I both felt it looked more like film when you really filter the light before it gets to the sensor.

“Besides,” she adds, “Thomas and I don’t want to keep all possibilities open in post. We don’t find that an interesting way to work. We want to say, ‘This is how we’re going to shoot this scene,’ and shoot it that way. And then the film is what it is.”