Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

“The Bastard”: Hollywood has Clint Eastwood. The dishes are by Mads Mikkelsen

  • The film is an epic costume drama adapted from the 2020 Danish bestseller. “The Captain And Ann Barbara” (Polish edition in preparation). This is another collaboration between the outstanding Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen with the director of “The Queen’s Lover” Nikolaj Arcel.
  • “The Bastard” won three European Film Awards at the end of 2023. Mads Mikkelsen was named the best actor of the year. In addition, the cinematography and costumes in the film were also appreciated.
  • The film debuts in Polish cinemas on March 15, 2024.

During 25 years of war, Ludvig Kahlen (Mads Mikkelsen) achieved the rank of captain. When he appears in a worn-out uniform before the officials of the Danish King Frederick V, he has only one goal – to convince them of his vision of colonizing the Jutland moors. Thousands of square kilometers of the peninsula lying fallow are barren land that no one has managed to tame yet. However, Kahlen is ready to risk the captain’s pension. In return, if successful, he expects a noble title and appanages.

For a man from the commune, who is the illegitimate son of an heir and a servant, it is the fulfillment of his dreams of social advancement and a kind of compensation that motivates him to act in the unequal fight against fate that he has been fighting since childhood. This, in turn, puts him to another severe test. Trying to establish a colony, Kahlen disturbs Frederik De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg) – a landowner and cruel despot who claims the right to these areas and whom no one has dared to oppose yet.

The latest film by Nicolaj Arcel (“The Queen’s Lover”) is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Ida Jessen. was realized in truly Western poetics. Instead of the Wild West, we have the Wild North, where the law is on the side of the stronger. Kahlen, who is tired of fighting and trying to replant a piece of field taken away from nature, evokes associations with Bill Munny, who wanted to hang up his Colts. “Without forgiveness”but also with the determined-to-success oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) from “There Will Be Blood” Paul Thomas Anderson. But although the blood flows thickly at times, Arcel, unlike Anderson, does not push his hero onto a path towards madness with no possibility of retreat.

Taking in runaway peasants Johaness (Morten Hee Andersen) and his wife Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin), and then a Roma girl (Melina Hagberg) accused of witchcraft, Kahlen becomes something of a folk tribune in which the learned ambition to win at all costs will clash with the feelings that sprout unexpectedly in the old soldier’s hardened and scarred heart.

The emotional awakening of the main character is perfectly illustrated phenomenal photos by Rasmus Videbæk, in which the Jutland landscape appears like images from a spooky fairy tale. Where the mists covering the moors, forest gaps and the gloomy castle hide dangers that only the rays of the rising sun can chase away.

Being the Danish candidate for the Oscar “Bastard” fits into the recently popular folk cinema trend, also in Poland. Kahlen shares a fate with Ignac (Bartosz Bielenia) – main character “Scythe” by Paweł Maślony. Both of them are the fruits of noble desire. And they both decide to challenge their destiny. And Stanisław Duchnowski (Piotr Pacek), who oppresses Ignacy, represents the same type of degenerate nobility as the cruel Frederik De Schinkel, who tries to destroy Kahlen’s dreams and whose pastime is raping and torturing his subjects.

But although both Maślona and Arcel draw heavily on the Western tradition, “The Bastard” takes reality to a much lesser extent. The rules of the genre are subservient to the story, which can be read as a metaphor for the formation of Danish society built on the virtues of the Protestant work ethos: conscientiousness, reliability, frugality, trustworthiness and social solidarity.

And although these virtues have their roots in religion, their nature is universal. By giving Kahlen a “patchwork” family, Arcel talks about both 18th-century Denmark and the conflict-torn modern world, which is struggling with a crisis of values. You can be skeptical about such a “recipe for happiness”, but watching “The Bastard”, in which, as the story progresses, Mikkelsen slowly releases further small signs of humanity in his character, it is impossible not to root for him.


“Bastard” (Bastarden), dir. Nicolaj Arcel, Sweden, Germany, Denmark (2023), distributor: Best Film, cinema premiere: March 15, 2024.