Film

Dark and stormy

OUT NOW! In 16th century France, MICHAEL KOHLHAAS seeks to right the wrongs of the rich and crocked.

Sixteenth-century horse dealer Michael Kohlhaas is forced to leave two of his finest specimens as a pledge when he is held up on his way to market by a self-righteous count demanding payment of a bridge toll.

Returning to claim them, Kohlhaas finds the animals in terrible condition, with the aristocrat refusing to pay damages or nurse the animals back to health. Enraged by this injustice, Kohlhaas first tries to take his case to court and, when that fails, starts a war against the corrupt gentry: a war in which he will lose much more than a horse. Relocating his version of Heinrich von Kleist’s timeless study of an individual taking on the crooked collective to feudal France allows des Pallières to paint his picture with broader strokes.

But prioritising the elemental over the specific has its drawbacks: too many never-ending shots of foggy landscapes and dialogues that mostly consist of silence.

If anyone can do silence it’s Mikkelsen, however, whose performance as Kohlhaas eschews fanatical heroism in favour of composed and steady decency, lending the issue of just how far one human being will go in search of justice the kind of credibility that des Pallières’ directorial vacillations have a regrettable tendency to undermine.

Michael Kohlhaas | Directed by Arnaud des Pallières (Germany, France 2013) with Mads Mikkelsen, Bruno Ganz. Starts September 12

Originally published in Issue #119, September 2013.