In Love With Its Own Looks

Steven Soderbergh's follow-up to his smash indie picture, 1989's SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, was this fantastic-looking but dramatically inert exercise in style over substance. Screenwriter Lem Dobbs might have originally penned an immediate and organic treatment of its classic subject, yet the film drowns in a sea of arty camera angles and a production design that has 'Look at me!' written all over it. As a viewing experience, KAFKA is easy to sit through -- its confident editing rhythms give it some propulsion -- but, coming from an immensely gifted filmmaker, it's unfortunately hard to care about.

A group of first-rate, distinguished actors (obviously in love with the thought of working with Soderbergh) barely register. You can sense them trying to go as far as they can with their paper-thin cutouts posing as flesh-and-blood characters, but characterization seems the aspect Soderbergh was least concerned with. KAFKA reeks of one of those freshman film student's works that concentrates solely on making the most obvious, attention-getting impression possible; instead of narrative storytelling with structure, we're supposed to be bowled over by the look of the film rather than the content of it. Some film exercises of this type aren't bad when presented in this manner, yet Soderbergh has taken on an important subject, and with this comes a certain degree of aesthetic responsibility, to present the subtext the story entails with some indication of judgment and sense of purpose.

Walt Lloyd's color cinematography IS stupendous, and the production designer definitely stayed up some nights in implementing the high degree of visual versatility and texture as the audience is graciously afforded here. But what exactly is KAFKA? It's surely an exercise in style, but not much else. It's paper-thin on just about every discernable level, as hollow and empty and forgettable as the majority of the lot of TV commercials we're subjected to. We go to the cinema for a bit more than a 90-minute high-minded hustle.

by JackSommersby,

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