Review

After his success Sex, Lies and Videotape this film was Steven Soderbergh's next movie. At first sight, it seems to be a biographical film on Kafka, yet it only uses names and locations from Kafka's stories. The main goal of the movie is to capture in a somewhat expressionist way the feeling and atmosphere of Kafka's writing in a story which seems quite unusual.

Kafka (Jeremy Irons) works as an employee of an insurance company in Prague, when one day one of his colleagues is missing and found dead. First out of mere curiosity, Kafka tries to find out what has happened and gets more and more involved in a story about power of the state, resistance and strange accidents which lead to the palace of Prague. Kafka becomes acquainted with some sort of revolutionary group (among them Theresa Russell in one of her early roles) which try to smuggle a bomb in the palace to overthrow the authority. When Kafka learns that the police are helpless (the inspector is portrayed by Armin Mueller-Stahl) as more and more people disappear, he decides to enter the palace by himself and to find out the truth.

First of all, you'll have to get used to the fact, that this Kafka isn't the real Kafka, but something between reality and the fiction that is created by the movie. If you accept this movie as an experiment with Kafka's style, it's fun watching.

If you enjoy reading Kafka's stories (as I do, for Kafka's twisted and yet clear style) and know the background of Kafka and his writing, you'll be delighted about the many subtle biographical allusions that are mentioned in this film: Only the gardener of the cemetery appreciates his work as a writer, Kafka's problems with women, his shy and reserved behaviour, etc. The main themes are really portrayed kafkaesque and some scenes are done with great love for detail: power and authority of the state are omniscient and omnipresent, features they also had in Kafka's Before the Law and The Trial. For example, Kafka's fear of being crushed by paperwork and bureaucracy is wonderfully depicted when he visits the archive of Prague which is handled by an old man walking between rows of files, piled up some metres high and covered with the dust of decades.

Jeremy Irons himself does (as ever) a great performance as Kafka. Somehow it seems like Kafka's hard-working attitude and seclusion have left their mark on Jeremy Irons's face - so he's also visually perfectly cast for this role. Jeremy Irons gets almost a stand-alone performance, since Kafka doesn't get much in contact with other people - so this is one of Jeremy Irons's movies in which you can enjoy and discover his great acting abilities. Kafka is stone-faced, although inside he is perturbed by the plot, and in some scenes Kafka's shyness is portrayed wonderfully by Jeremy Irons.

Yet, the main problem is: How do you bring the kafkaesque atmosphere on the screen? Soderbergh tries some sort of expressionist way: The streets of Prague are dark and gloomy, almost the whole movie is in black-and-white; only the part when Kafka enters the palace is filmed in color. Some scenes also have an expressionist effect, e.g. when Kafka is chased across a huge lense of a telescope on which the picture of a gigantic eye is projected. The story also offers some cruel shock effects (that parallel Kafka's story about the strange transformation of a man into an insect).

This is all done very well and fits perfectly in the story, but the problem still remains. When you read Kafka's stories, your personal experience may still be quite different and is much more individually. And so the strong points of this movie are the characters, yet the visual experience suffers slightly from the impossibility to adapt the feeling of Kafka's stories to the screen.



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