Thomas Vinterberg is aware his new movie, "The Hunt," may touch a raw nerve. Several, in fact.

The Danish director's Cannes Film Festival contender, the story of a small-town witch hunt triggered by a child's allegation of abuse, takes in sensitive subjects including masculinity, male-female relations and the presumed innocence of children.

Danish star Mads Mikkelsen — "Casino Royale'''s Bond villain Le Chiffre — plays Lucas, a kindergarten worker ostracized from his close-knit community after he is falsely accused of abusing a pupil.

Vinterberg said Sunday that in Denmark "we have a saying that children and drunk people always tell the truth."

"We are claiming that this is not always the truth," he told reporters in Cannes. "We are saying that sometimes people lie, also kids, but we are saying they are lying to satisfy the grownups around them."

"They say there's no smoke without fire," added actress Susse Wold, who plays the kindergarten principal. "This film is about smoke without fire and how dangerous that can be."

The film, which unfolds with the tension of a thriller as Lucas's world crumbles, has had a positive reception at Cannes, where Vinterberg's 1998 feature "Festen" ("The Celebration") won the third-place Jury Prize.

That film was a product of the pared-down Dogme 95 movement founded by Vinterberg and fellow Danish director Lars von Trier.

Vinterberg later abandoned the strict filmmaking rules of Dogme, which banned constructed sets, action sequences and special effects.

"I picked the fruit and there was no more fruit left on the tree," the director said. "So I had to abandon this way of filmmaking and look for other stuff."

But he is still drawn to muscular filmmaking and to dark tales from his homeland, whose writers and directors have a reputation for somber subjects.

"Denmark and Scandinavia in general have always been telling these dark tales," Vinterberg said. "This is not an entire image of our country. This is a dark tale from our country, which is a shire of happy little Hobbits — sometimes very stern Hobbits, but quite happy people in general."

"The Hunt" is one of 22 films competing for the Palme d'Or at the festival, which runs to May 27.