Reviews - Michael Kohlhaas
Reviewed By Chris Coombes
This is a stylish film; it relies heavily on lots of striking close-up shots that convey a simmering sense of dread and barely understood danger against a backdrop of wonderful and often bleak landscape. All of this is supported by a soundtrack that until the very end contains little more than the sound of the horses that are so central to the story.
It is based on a novella by German author Heinrich von Kleist which in turn is based on a 16th century story about a fanatical quest for justice.
Michael Kohlhaas is a successful horse trader who suffers an injustice when a local nobleman illegally takes 2 of his horses as a tax. Kohlhaas attempts to have his horses returned through the courts, but when this fails and his wife, who tries to intervene on his behalf is killed, he then pursues justice by taking matters into his own hands, and increasing numbers of disaffected men are drawn to him to help fight his cause. As the story progresses Michael, a moral, just and loving man becomes entrenched in a power play that he cannot escape and that he cannot win. The tragedy is that he is on an irresistible trajectory to his own destruction and his principles, his misery and his anger ensure that for him there is going to be no way out. He ultimately gets the justice he is seeking but the cost is that he is executed and has to leave the young daughter he loves to make her way through life without him. We are left with an overwhelming sense of futility as the film closes and I found myself wondering what any of us can do when we are caught up in circumstances more powerful than we are.
It was the relationship that Michael has with his daughter Lisbeth who is about 12 years old that for me was one of the many rewarding elements of the film. It is dealt with completely without sentimentality. She is fiercely loyal to her father and their relationship seems to be based on a beautiful honesty. When Michael finally goes to his execution Lisbeth rides away from him clearly demonstrating to him how angry she is that he has allowed this to happen. It is a scene of great integrity - typical, I think of the whole film.
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