Nikolaj Arcel’s latest film The Promised Land, Denmark’s official Oscar entry for 2024, starring fellow countryman, acting great Mads Mikkelsen, recently was spotlighted with a special screening, Q&A with Screen International‘s Tim Grierson and reception at United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills.
Set in the mid-17th century Denmark, the story of Ludvig Kahlen (Mikkelsen) who pursued his lifelong dream: to make the heath bring him wealth and honor in an unforgiving area populated by wolves and highwaymen. A retired army captain with humble origins, Kahlen makes a deal with the King, to successfully settle the Jutland’s land and ascend to nobility. Arriving with nothing but a shovel and sheer willpower, Kahlen refuses to yield to the harsh landscape, dreaming of planting imported German potatoes. With the help of a runaway couple, a young priest and a precocious Romani orphan, he makes progress, but his unhinged noble neighbor Frederik de Schinkel will stop at nothing to prevent his success. As tensions escalate and violence erupts, the singularly focused Kahlen will have to decide just how much he is willing to risk.
The epic historical drama is stunningly shot, and one is reminded of iconic films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Field (starring Richard Harris), with a little Wuthering Heights, thrown into the mix.
Mikkelsen portrays the complicated, non-conventional hero of Ludvig Kahlen to perfection. Interestingly, during the Q&A, he noted that one of his favorite film characters is Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), mentioning that the film was an inspiration to him early on in his career.
Mikkelsen comments on the character of Kahlen, “I think he was actually a little more attractive, a little more sympathetic to watch in the first draft, and I might have been the one to have said ‘no” …my favorite film of all time is Taxi Driver, not necessary because it was the best film in history, I think it is ‘one’ of the best films. I saw it when I was a young man and it blew my mind because there was a guy I didn’t like, and then I liked him, and then I didn’t like him, and it went back and forth constantly. And I went out of the theater, going like.. that is interesting… that is exactly what I am experiencing in my own life.”
In addition to hopefully a Best International Feature nod for the film, I would not be surprised if Mikkelsen, who is known more for his villainous roles (Casino Royale, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny), will be considered for best actor this round.
Arcel was previously an Academy Award® nominee for Best International Feature for A Royal Affair in 2012.
The Promised Land had its world premiere at the 2023 Venice Film Festival, followed by international premieres at the 2023 Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals.
The Promised Land (Denmark-Germany-Sweden)
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Screenplay: Arcel, Anders Thomas Jensen, based on the novel The Captain and Ann Barbara by Ida Jessen
Camera: Rasmus Videbæk
Editor: Olivier Bugge Coutté
Music: Dan Romer
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Simon Bennebjerg, Amanda Collin, Kristine Kujath Thorp, Hagberg Melina, Gustav Lindh