While it’s difficult to stay as on top of the latest developments in European cinema as we’d like to, there being a limited number of hours in the day, every now and then some piece of development news from the Old World catches our eye, often due to the people involved. And so it is with “Michael Kohlhaas” a newly-announced film from director Arnaud des Pallières, which CineEuropa has revealed is set to star two of our favorite international actors, Mads Mikkelsen and Bruno Ganz.
Our love for Mikkelsen, the pre-Gosling muse of Nicholas Winding Refn, has been well-documented; he seems to bring a similar level of intensity and charisma to arthouse pics and to Hollywood blockbusters, in which he is almost always the best thing (he’s maybe the only actor who doesn’t need to be embarrassed by his participation in “Clash of the Titans,” and we’re hopeful he can pull off the same trick of hovering above the likely sludge in the upcoming “The Three Musketeers“).
Ganz, on the other hand, is less often front and center of his films, with the eternal exception of his sclerotic, meme-inducing and near-definitive portrayal of Hitler during his last days in the utterly brilliant “Downfall.” But after a long career featuring appearances in some of the most iconic European films of recent decades, from Herzog‘s “Nosferatu” to Wim Wenders‘ “Wings of Desire” to 2008’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” he, too, now regularly commutes across the Atlantic: the last few years have seen him appear in “Youth without Youth,” “The Reader” “The Manchurian Candidate,” and “Unknown” in which his scene with Frank Langella is the kind of thing we wish whole movies were made of.
A little further digging into the detail also has us intrigued. While we’re unfamiliar with the director’s previous feature releases like “Parc” and “Adieu,” the story comes with quite a pedigree of its own. The tale of the titular Kohlhaas, a horse merchant who turns rebel against the established order of 16th century Germany, is adapted from the 1811 novella by Heinrich von Kleist, which was itself based on a true story. With champions like Franz Kafka, who apparently devoted one of the only two live readings he ever performed to the work, it’s not surprising that it, like much of von Kleist’s writing, has been adapted before. Most notably, Volker Schlondorff made a version in 1969 starring familiar British actor David Warner and featuring Anita Pallenberg, and in 1999 John Badham adapted the story into a Western for HBO, “The Jack Bull“, which starred John Cusack, John Goodman and Miranda Otto.
By all accounts, the story’s themes have universal dramatic appeal (what personal price should one be willing to pay for justice?) and contemporary relevance (at what point does fighting against tyranny devolve into terrorism?) and while there’s no word on the actual allocation of roles it seems a safe bet that Mikkelsen will play Kohlhaas, with Ganz as his likely opponent: a prospect that makes our mouths water.
A Franco-German co-production shepherded by Les Films d’Ici, “Michael Kohlhaas” is shooting in France from now until the end of October.