In the 16th century in the Cévennes, a horse dealer by the name of Michael Kohlhaas (Mads Mikkelsen) leads a happy family life with his wife Judith (Delphine Chuillot) and his daughter Lisbeth (Mélusine Mayance). He has just purchased new horses and intends to bring them home. But, when he has to pass a border, two of his horses is taken away from him by a greedy local baron. When his legal protest proves futile, the situation escalates and Kohlhaas raises an army that uses fire and swords in order to have his rights restored…

“Michael Kohlhaas” is based on Heinrich von Kleist’s novella Michael Kohlhaas, which is based on the story of the German historical figure Hans Kohlhase. The merchant Hans Kohlhase lived in Cölln on the Spree (now incorporated into Berlin) in the Margraviate of Brandenburg in the 16th century. In October 1532 he set out on a trip to the Leipzig Trade Fair in the neighboring Electorate of Saxony. On the way two of his horses were seized, at the command of the Junker von Zaschwitz, as a supposed fee for passage through Saxony. Kohlhase sought redress in the Saxon courts but failed to obtain it. Outraged, he issued a public challenge in 1534 and burned down houses in Wittenberg. Even a letter of admonition from Martin Luther could not dissuade him, and Kohlhase and the band he collected committed further acts of terror. In 1540 he was finally captured and tried, and was publicly broken on the wheel in Berlin on 22 March 1540. From this history Kleist fashioned a novella that dramatized a personal quest for justice in defiance of the claims of the general law and the community. “Michael Kohlhaas” was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. One can wonder why this German historical figure was made into a film in french, despite the fact that it´s a joint French-German venture with some german actors in smaller roles. The movie has a very slow pace and it feels like the Spaghetti western genre was the role model for the movie and the dialogue is sparse and mostly not that intriguing. Mads Mikkelsen is not bad as Michael Kohlhaas, but he has done this sort of character a bit too many times and in the end he is not fully convincing if you ask me. The storyline is “simple” in one way, being wrongfully treated and not finding justice due to people with power, but there´s a lot of other moral layers that Kohlhaas simply disregard despite the consequences, which gives you some food for thought as a viewer. (3 out of 5)

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