Friday, March 31, 2017

Art-House Uprising

“The Age of Uprising – the Legend of Michel Kholhaas” film directed by Arnaud de Pallieres, 2013

This French-German film is about a ridiculously handsome horse trader living in a rock-walled countryside maison who is insulted by a local Baron.  It is the 1600s in France.  His valet is attacked by the Baron’s two dogs and two of his horses are abused for 3 months and he finds them broken and bloody.  When he sues the Baron over this, his case is turned down three times due to the Baron’s influence with the judges.  His wife goes to plead his case to the “Princess” – the sister of the King of France, the Queen of Navarre – and she is killed by the arrogant Baron’s men.

Moody leading man with sword in gauzy countryside
So Kholhaas decides to begin a jacquerie.  He and his 4 servants assault the Baron’s chateau and kill all his soldiers, but the Baron escapes to a nunnery.  They assault the nunnery with flaming arrows and the Baron escapes disguised as a nun.  Instead they attack an armed convoy guarding a decoy.  Kholhaas’ group grows from 5 to 7, then 18, then 100s, as displaced and angry peasants join the fight.  As he is about to assault the Princesses’ town with equal numbers to her soldiers, a priest/preacher (Martin Luther in the original) convinces him to lay down his arms.  This in exchange for his horses being restored to health and compensation paid for his valet, who has already been killed in the fighting.  This is a deal brokered by the Princess.  Kholhaas tells his men to disarm too.  Their weapons are brought in and the small army disbanded. 

Of course, the bargain is not kept, as one peasant kills a landlord.  So the whole deal collapses.  Kholhaas is arrested.  A deal with the Princess leads to him getting his horses and compensation, while the Baron gets two years in jail, which is not believable at all.  Kholhaas himself loses his head to the axe-man in 'exchange.His young daughter is left motherless and fatherless.

That is the story the film tells.  It is ultimately dark, dull and pointless.  The film is fatally flawed.  Why?

It is based on a true story about a German merchant who was abused by a Saxon noble in the 1500s.  The merchant ultimately got a group of criminals behind him, raiding Saxony, and was finally arrested and killed in Berlin.

So this film is really a wholly fictional creation – hence an ideological creation.  What is the real story it is telling?  Mention is made of many peasant uprisings in the past, but no reasons or grievances are mentioned for these uprisings.  No brutality against peasants is shown.  The men following Kholhaas are merely extras.  Only his loyal valet stands out.  The reasons the poor peasants join Kholhaas are mysterious.  We are to assume they are fighting and dying because they are upset that he lost his wife and his horses were abused – that is it.  Then he buys into the pacifist lie told by the preacher/priest to lay down his arms. And he does, for he is a religious fellow… As a result he loses his life and abandons his followers, some of whom have already been killed. 

The story is really about middle-class outrage, small-mindedness and short-sightedness, dressed up as a drama or tragedy.  It represents the clash between the rising commercial strata and the weakening royal strata.  The key point here is that the perspectives of the peasants are completely ignored by the filmmakers and Kholhaas himself.  We don’t even know what happened to them when the disarmament deal collapsed.  Certainly the Church is exposed once again as an ally of royalty.  Royalty itself is displayed as either vicious or duplicitous. Yet if you are going to go to war, then you have to prosecute the war to the fullest - and not for narrow, personal reasons alone, but for broader ones.  The filmmakers are afraid to get away from this solely personal lens and link the story to others.  It is an isolated ‘uprising’ of one.

The film is more like a fool’s errand, as his fight for ‘honor’ ends up bereaving his own daughter twice.  The emotional subtext is that anyone watching will think to themselves – why ever fight?  You only lose.  That pessimism is ultimately the film’s other point.

Oh, and the film contains a moody French countryside, lots of wind, beautiful horses, constant buzz of flies, time inconsistencies, flinty lead actor looks and cross-bows! 

Red Frog
March 31, 2017

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