In the sixteenth century in the Cevennes region of France a horse dealer by the name of Michael Kohlhaas leads a decent family life. When a lord treats him unjustly, he launches a war against him.
If the opening score of “Michael Kolhaas” makes this competition film sound like “Conan the Barbarian,” you’ve been misled. This action drama set in the Middle Ages is a demanding and intellectual work (more cerebral than entertaining) on the austere themes of order and morality. Michael Kohlhaas—performed by a more-iconic-than-ever Mads Mikkelsen—is not one to be done in by an operetta baron. So, when he is arbitrarily required to leave two of his horses as a deposit payment for crossing a bridge, only to recover them later in a sorry state and discover that his servant has been attacked by dogs, he embarks on a mad crusade against the sham justice (or rather injustice ) wielded by the powers-that-be.
There are significant themes at play here, like the need for revolution and martyrdom by those who dare stand up against the established order. In using a deliberately spectactular-less directing style, director Arnaud Des Pallières makes this Middle Ages of arrows and crossbows credible. It’s unfortunate, however, that the film sorely lacks in emotion, the director apparently preferring Protestant objectivity to Catholic fervor.
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