Inspired by Heinrich von Kleist German novella Michael Kohlhaas, which in it self is based on the true story of Hans Kohlhase a 16th century merchant who lived in Colln which today is called Berlin, French born director and writer Arnaud des Pallieres has adapted the story to concern an ordinary family man who earns a living trading in horses and only turns to violence when all other options have eluded him.
Whilst taking horses to market Michael Kohlhaas (Danish actor Mads Mikkelson in his brooding warrior mode) has to pass through the local barons lands who seizes two of his best black horses as collateral for his lack of a transit permit even though as he discovers he does not need one. Returning to collect his horses and his servant Cesar (David Bennent), who has stayed to look after the valuable beasts, he finds that the horses have been viciously worked in the barons fields and are damaged goods also Cesar has been savaged by the barons dogs. Our horse trader then attempts to sue for reparations for both his damaged horses and his badly injured servant but the case is unfairly dismissed because the baron has a relative at court. It is decided that Kohlhaas’s wife Judith (Delphine Chuillot) should partition the ruling princess directly, but she is badly beaten and dies on her return to her husband and teenage daughter Lisbeth. In Kohlhaas’s mind his has only one course of action left to him – that is to extract revenge and search for retribution for the wrongs done to him and his family.
Maybe a little slow and deliberate for some but in my opinion an admirable example of austere period drama, admittedly sombre and bleak but totally gripping all brilliantly acted out by Mikkelson and his supporting cast, which includes, as well as these already mentioned, Bruno Ganz as the main protector of the authoritarians and the excellent Denis Lavant as a Protestant theologian who is in a great scene where he lectures Michael Kohlhaas about the moral dimension of the action he has taken. When you have the privilege to witness such inventive filmmaking you realise that the demise of the movie is greatly exaggerated.
|Will Kohlhaas extract his revenge?|