Last year’s winner of Best Actor in Cannes Mads Mikkelsen (for Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt) stars in French director Arnaud des Pallières’ competition film Michael Kohlhaas. The film is an adaptation of the German author Heinrich Von Kleist’s 1811 novella of the same name.
Set in the sixteenth-century France, on the dividing line between between Medieval logic and modern individuality, the novella foreshadowed an entire genre of modern fiction in its portrayal of a lone man taking on the whole of society. Franz Kafka stated that Michael Kohlhaas was his favourite work of German literature and that it gave him his first urge to write.
A horse dealer by the name of Michael Kohlhaas leads a happy and prosperous family life. When a lord treats him unjustly he raises an army and puts the country to fire and sword in order to have his rights restored.
“I couldn’t visualize any French actor playing the role of Kohlhaas,” says the director about the casting of Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, whom the director initially thought was too handsome for the role.
“I was looking for a Clint Eastwood thirty years younger. One day Sarah Teper, the casting director, mentioned Mads Mikkelsen. I discovered the Pusher trilogy and was blown away by his resourcefulness but I wasn’t sure he could play Kohlhaas, the God-fearing family man. Then I saw him play an ordinary man in After the Wedding, and I was convinced.”
“Kohlhaas is an ordinary person who, in the name of justice, becomes the absolute enemy of a whole society. His relentless slogan – ‘I want my horses back the way they were’ – displays his utter inability to compromise,” says the director, and Mads Mikkelsen adds:
“Kohlhaas asks the world for the simplest thing – justice and equal rights for everyone – and triggers havoc all around him. Kohlhaas is a man whose ideals are bigger than himself.”
In addition to Mikkelsen the cast includes Bruno Ganz and Denis Lavant.
Directed by Arnaud de Pallières and written by Arnaud de Pallières and Christelle Berthevas, Michael Kohlhaas is a French-German production between Les Films d’Ici, Looks Filmproduktionen, arte France Cinéma and Rhône-Alpes Cinéma.
Quotes are from the film’s offical press material.