Arnaud des Pallières • Director
Encounter with the French director and his co-screenwriter Christelle Berthevas at the Brussels Film Festival.
After the world premiere of Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas [+see also:
interview: Arnaud des Pallières
film profile] in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Cineuropa met French filmmaker Arnaud des Pallières and his co-screenwriter Christelle Berthevas at the Brussels Film Festival where the feature film won four awards including the Golden Iris for Best Film and the Cineuropa Prize.
Cineuropa: The story is incredible. When Michael Kohlhaas’s army is victorious and he has the possibility of grabbing power by force, he gives it up for the simple restitution of his right
Arnaud des Pallières: This event is the story as it is told by Kleist. It is probably this event that made me never forget this text in over 25 years. It was for this particular moment that I wanted to adapt this text. In the book, this passage is only a single line, but I will never forget it.
How did you adapt the original text by Heinrich von Kleist?
Christelle Berthevas: The writing phase took two and a half years, with two of us working on it. It took a long time. We began with four months of historical research to be able to transpose the story into France. This work was useful for costumes and sets.
A.d.P: From the point of view of events, we didn’t add anything to Kleist’s story. On the other hand, we did add and modify a few characters.
C.B: Kleist was inspired by a news item to write this book. We did the opposite. We streamlined the book to keep only the main event: this merchant who gets treated unjustly. We cut all the reflection about the judicial system of the time to focus only on the main action. We got rid of certain elements in the book, like the fortune-teller, a character who is there to bring a feminine presence to a book dominated by men. To restore the same balance to the screenplay, we replaced Kohlhaas’s son by a daughter and the German Prince by Marguerite d’Angoulême.
How did you go about looking for the right actor to play the role of Michael Kohlhaas?
A.d.P: It took 11 weeks. I was looking for someone who carried the extraordinary presence of Kohlhaas in his build and features, and who could convey it in just a glance at the beginning of the film, someone out of the ordinary who, in his dryness, rigour and inner fire would fit somewhere between Jacques Dutronc in Van Gogh by Maurice Pialat and Clint Eastwood 30 years ago. I gave these elements to my casting director. After a few attempts, we realized that we would not find it in a French actor. We then thought about Italian actor Kim Rossi Stuart who already spoke French, but he wasn’t available. My casting director then mentioned Mads Mikkelsen who wasn’t then known in France, that's to say before Royal Affair [+see also:
interview: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
interview: Nikolaj Arcel
film profile] and The Hunt [+see also:
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
film profile]. We met him in Copenhagen with our producer, and it was when I came back to Paris that I saw him for the first time the poster of Valhalla Rising [+see also:
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile]. I then reviewed his entire filmography up until Pusher (1996) which showed what is most spectacular in his acting. But I made my final decision after seeing After the Wedding [+see also:
interview: Sisse Graum Jørgensen
interview: Susanne Bier
film profile] by Susanne Bier, in which I saw that he could also be an everyman, a man capable of gentleness and self-effacement. He can really play a very wide range of roles. And he had acted in a French film, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky [+see also:
film profile], so he could play in several languages, he made small and big movies, and he looks quite adventurous. We sent him a screenplay in English and he answered very quickly saying he was very interested.
Did the film’s sales benefit from its exposure at the Cannes Film Festival?
A.d.P: Surprisingly enough, the film sold quite well even before Cannes. A certain number of territories such as Australia, Germany (because there is a coproduction), the United Kingdom and the United States, took the risk of purchasing the film after just reading the screenplay and knowing that Mikkelsen was playing the title role.