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Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas

Directed by Arnaud des Pallières

France 2013

Cornerhouse, 5 January 2013

Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas

At root, a revenge drama: Michael Kohlhaas is a man wronged who seeks redress through the law.  When that finally fails, he takes matters into his own hands.

The film is, however, something more than simply a Western set during the Reformation or early Enlightenment.  It is about how a man can remain a mystery even to himself.  And as such, it remains faithful not only to the spirit of Kleist’s long short story (completed in 1810, based on a chronicle of 1731) but to his vision of the world.  Human beings, mortals, are too wilful and changeable to receive grace.  Nor can they truly forgive.

True, transferring the action from Germany to France does present some difficulties as regards matching story and film: for who is Michael Kohlhaas’s spiritual mentor meant to be, if not Luther?  On the plus side, the cinematography is ravishing, Martin Wheeler has composed a haunting score and Mads Mikkelsen delivers another compelling performance.