BERLIN — “Henker” (“The Headsman”), a complex medieval tale about a compassionate village executioner who takes on the Catholic Church, attracted an impressive team of veteran independent producers from across Europe, but it was Hungary’s new tax incentive scheme that provided the necessary thrust to get the Austrian pic rolling.
Producer Helmut Grasser (“Dog Days”) of Vienna-based Allegro Film says it was the story’s disturbing parallels between the Dark Ages and the present day that drew him to “The Headsman.” Pic stars Danish thesp Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (“Wimbledon,” “Nightwatch”) as an enlightened executionerwho becomes the sole voice of reason against a backdrop of religious intolerance in 16th-century Tyrol.
The $6.5 million English-language pic was shot on location in Austria’s scenic Steiermark region and is currently lensing at Eurofilm Studio in Budapest, where producers can reclaim up to 20% of costs thanks to Hungary’s new tax initiative launched this year.
“The tax incentive was definitely the deciding factor,” Grasser says. “We considered Luxembourg, but shooting in Austria was expensive and Luxembourg certainly isn’t cheap. Hungary was really the perfect location.”
“The Headsman,” which also stars Peter McDonald, Anastasia Griffith and Steven Berkoff, examines “a period of transition in which the church is trying to hinder growing threats to its hegemony by any means necessary and brutally choking off any dissent or movement towards reform,” says Grasser.
Enter Martin, the village headsman and the church’s ultimate instrument in law enforcement. Although he has beheaded heretics in the name of God, Martin also has become an accomplished healer thanks to his wife’s teachings and his own macabre skills. And that soon makes him a dangerous free-thinker and a threat to the church’s monopoly on knowledge.
“The similarities with what’s going on in the world today are very apparent,” says Swiss helmer Simon Aeby (“Three Below Zero”). “The religious fundamentalism, the intolerance, the use of God’s righteousness to justify violence, the power of the elite over the masses, it’s all very timely.”
In addition to Eurofilm Studio’s Peter Miskolczi, pic’s co-producers include Mike Downey and Sam Taylor’s U.K.-based Film & Music Entertainment; Peter Rommel’s German shingle, Home Run Pictures, Claude Waringo of Luxembourg’s Samsa Film; and Marcel Hoehn’s Swiss firm, T&C Film.
Pic, which hits theaters next year, obtained additional financing from Austrian film subsidies and pubcaster ORF; Invicta Capital in the U.K.; the Swiss Federal Office of Culture and pubcaster SF DRS; Film Fund Luxembourg; and German regional subsidy MFG Baden-Wurttemberg.