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11 April 1969: Michael Kohlhaas - Der Rebel

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Jan. 1st, 1970 | 08:00 pm

Also known as “Man on Horseback”, Michael Kohlhaas was filmed in Bavaria, (Germany), Bratislava, (Slovakia), and Moravia, (Czech Republic).

There are two versions, one English, one German.

The release date was 11 April 1969, in West Germany.

The film was nominated for the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1969.

Michael Kohlhaas is a Kafkaesque tale based on an 1811 novella by Heinrich von Kleist, which is itself based on the 16th-century story of Hans Kohlhase.

The story is about a man obsessed with getting justice. Michael Kohlhaas is taking some horses to market when he is forced to leave two of them behind as security for a toll imposed by the landowner, Wenzel von Tronka, whose property Kohlhaas needs to traverse.

By the time he returns, Kohlhaas has learned that the toll is illegal, but finds his horses in a desperate condition, having been worked, and not fed. The man he left to care for them has been beaten and run off the property.

Kohlhaas doesn’t really care about the horses, because he refuses to take them back in that condition. His only concern is the matter of principal.

He tries to go through legal channels to get redress, but when his wife is casually killed while petitioning for him, he resorts to assembling a war band, to try to force the authorities to take his side against von Tronka.

They go on the rampage, attacking Von Tronka’s castle. Von Tronka gets away, so Kohlhaas searches for him, sacking nunneries and towns. He shows the occasional flicker of remorse, but he is so obsessed with getting justice from Von Tronka that it overrides everything.

This leads inevitably to his destruction.

Michael Gothard plays the part of John, one of Kohlhaas’ band of rebels, who meets his end at Kohlhaas’ behest, after admitting to a rape.

This is the first film in which Michael is seen riding a horse. He seems competent and confident on horseback, and one might wonder where, and when, a state school pupil would have learned to ride.

According to family friend, Ritva, Michael used to go to the country during school holidays. If, as seems likely, he went to stay with his maternal grandparents in or near Bream, on the edge of the Forest of Dean, where horse-riding is a popular activity, it seems likely that this was where Michael became such a skilled rider.

A full account of Ritva's interview is here.

Michael Kohlhaas is now available on DVD.

Warning: As well as scenes of violence, including sexual assaults, torture and hangings, there is some animal abuse in this film. They scare a cat very badly. Also, they needed horses that appeared to have been starved, and it seems unlikely that they just found some starving horses and made them well again.

IMDB entry

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