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This is a really weird movie. People will instantly recognize that it
is an adaptation of Franz Kafka's writing, and that's exactly what it
is. It isn't an adaptation of any one book of his, but rather of his
writing as a whole. All the Kafka-esquire things you'd expect are here:
conspiracy, paranoia, mystery, and the like. What is so amazing that
they come together absolutely fantastically. The cinematography is
especially ingenious and really captures the mysterious and cryptic
look and feel of a Kafka tale. The use of color and B&W is pretty
simple, but very effective. In fact the whole movie is pretty simple,
there are no spectacular stunts or extraordinary set pieces, just a
relentless, nail-biting, suspense as Kafka searches for answers to who
murdered his friend. He receives help from a supposed rebel group who
talks of a secret order and conspiracy that works from the confines of
a mysterious looking building outside of town, but they are soon
murdered...so Kafka goes to find the truth for himself. First-rate
suspense all the way. 10/10
Rated PG-13: some violence and grim content
Many filmmakers have often failed when attempting to adapt the work of
writer Franz Kafka (most famously Orson Wells), so it comes as quite a
surprise to see Steven Soderbergh mixing his life and fiction with fantastic
results. The story concerns Kafka (a never better Jeremy Irons)
investigating the disappearance of one of his work colleagues. The plot
takes Kafka through many of the writer's own works, most notably "The
Castle" and "The Trial"...
With his follow up to the cool indie hit Sex, lies and videotape (1989) Soderbergh switches both style and ideas completely, creating an evocative and ethereal world of 1920 Prague, full of shadows and bizarre mutations. He also employs shifts between colour and black and white film stock, to give the film a more dreamlike feel.
Visually it is similar to another film from the same year, Lars Von Trier's Europa (1991), which also was about a man searching for the truth. But Kafka is more accessible, being both a gripping thriller and in some ways a black comedy. But however you choose to look at it, there is no denying Kafka's ability to amaze and enthral.
Not very accessible film about supposed parts of the life of Franz Kafka
with fantastic distinctive music and great photography. I really think
Soderbergh is one of few (Welles, Gilliam, Cronenberg, Roeg maybe) who are
able to create something like this. He is one of the most versatile
directors of our time. Only his third feature (right after 'Sex, Lies &
Videotape') and definitely his best besides Traffic. This film is one of
the reasons independent filmmaking is the only way to achieve great
cinematic creations. Kafka's twilight and absurd world is really portrayed
in an excellent way.
The cinematography by Walt Lloyd is absolutely brilliant. The best of all films from the nineties. It was probably inspired by Brazil (1985), The Third Man (1949) and The Trial (1963). I wish this film was 60 minutes longer. If only to give the cast more time to perform completely. The acting isn't uplifting, but definitely not bad. All the actors had better performances in other movies (Theresa Russell in Track 29, Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, Jeroen Krabbe in King of the Hill, Ian Holm in Brazil).
10 points out of 10 ;-)
This is a somewhat curious film, attempting to be old-fashioned - in
the sense that we have varying strands from an early-twentieth century
writer, as well as setting, production design and various visual
iconography - yet at the same time striving for a sense of
post-modernist reinvention. So, what we end up with is a stunning,
self-referential combination of the 'look' (which mixes elements of
Carol Reed's The Third Man and Welles' Citizen Kane), with elements of
the steam-punk sub-genre of films like Eraserhead, Brazil, Tetsuo: The
Iron Man, Barton Fink, etc . The story also concerns itself with the
notions of the film-noir, both in terms of characterisation, narrative
tension and visual design.
So, with Kafka (1991), we not only have the externally referential - of Kafka writing a story, whilst simultaneously involving himself in a real-life plot that will, in turn, become the story he is writing (The Castle) - but also the internal references to Kafka's own biographical history; from his job at the insurance company, to the difficult relationship with his father, and also his failed love affair etc. In the lead role we have one of Britain's most competent actors, Jeremy Irons, who, although never looking exactly like Kafka, does at least manage to embody the quiet, stubborn, meticulous spirit of the writer (or, at least the image that we have of him). His performance is one of complete restraint, far removed from some of his more caricatured performances of recent years, as he offers up a mirrored perspective for the audience; lingering in the background of the scene and simply reacting to what is going on around him (again, a popular device from Kafka's work).
Director Steven Soderbergh compliments and visualises the screenplay by Lem Dobbs exceptionally well, drawing on the aforementioned influences in a similar, post-modernistic way to their subsequent 1999 collaboration, The Limey. Soderbergh also offers us a depiction of a crumbling Europe thrown into confusion, creating a fully functioning world, much like Ridley Scott did with Blade Runner - offering us an illustration of the past by way of the future - or a depiction of Europe in decline to rival that of Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), von Trier's Europa (1991) and Soderbergh own subsequent film, The Good German (2006). So, whereas most films are content to create, or in this case recreate, early-twentieth century iconography in which the past is as pristine and shockingly brand-new, as if it were created only a yesterday, here we get a past that is dirty, grimy, filled with smoke, fog and dust; in short... totally believable.
This is a film the people expect too much coherency from; something that Soderbergh's continual mainstream success has only damaged further. As more and more cinema-goers come to adore films like Oceans 11 (2000), Traffic (2001) and Solaris (2002), they come to Kafka expecting a mainstream Hollywood thriller. Kafka couldn't be further from this. Here is an intelligent film that draws on the audience's understanding of European cinema and, to some extent, Kafka's own literary back-catalogue in order to piece together the film's central mystery. The main reference point is Kafka's book The Castle; here featured as an imposing fortress atop a shadowy hill. Inside, Kafka finds Ian Holm's mad scientist and the film switches to glorious Technicolor. There are also allusions made to The Trail, with Armin Mueller-Stahl's detective doggedly questioning Kafka's whereabouts and the integrity of his 'story' (an important factor within the film's internal struggle), as well as a direct reference to The Metamorphosis and some of the writer's more abstract shorter pieces.
Soderbergh and Dobbs aren't concerned with pandering to anyone here; they allow the story to remain, much like Kafka himself, an enigma. The story grips us like film-noir should, and Soderbergh keeps us enthralled with his constantly inventive camera work. This is a perfect film that deals with notions of fact and fiction, dreams and reality. The filmmakers respect our intelligence; they understand that some question can remain unanswered and film can work better as a result of this. Whether or not you believe the story to have taken place entirely in Kafka's head (note how the last shot of the film sees Kafka at his writing desk) or whether you see it as the mirroring of fact and fiction is entirely up to you. With fine support from Theresa Russell, Jeroen Krabbé and Alec Guinness, coupled with an exotic Cliff Martinez score, what we have with Kafka is one of the best and most underrated films of the nineteen nineties. A unique experience.
Steven Soderbergh's cult "Kafka" is not a biopic of writer Franz Kafka,
yet it has references of his works such as "The Castle", passages of
his life (where he tells to a friends to burn his manuscripts away
without showing his writings to the public) and a main character who
happens to be a writer named Kafka.
The extremely shy Kafka (Jeremy Irons) works in a bureaucratic place where he also writes to himself a few stories and some letters to his father. In this same place he only has one friend, a guy named Edward Raban who disappeared mysteriously. Kafka starts a strange journey trying to figure out what happened to his friend entering in a dangerous game with some strange figures such as Edward's lover and Kafka's co-worker (Theresa Russell) and her revolutionary friends; a very friendly figure who knows too much (Jeroen Krabbé); Grubach a police inspector (Armin Mueller-Stahl); and some of his own work colleagues such as his new assistants (Keith Allen and Simon McBurney), his estranged boss (Alec Guinness) and the annoying Mr. Burgel (Joel Grey); and at last Dr. Murnau (Ian Holm).
In a magnificent performance Jeremy Irons makes of his Kafka a man suffocated by the environment where he lives and the only way to escape of it it's to write stories that reflect his life in an awkward way and/or his life as an "investigator" that took him to darker places that could have been a source of inspiration for his works. The movie goes to tell us that he lived in a bizarre and very surrealistic place with surrealistic figures all around him and they were always trying to watch his next step, what he was doing and Kafka run away from this people, hides his writing works. This is a good thriller material!
Soderbergh makes of "Kafka" a good humored film noir that has a great mystery to be solved, the rhythm of the film is intertwined with some slow paced moments where you can pause your brain to solve some of the puzzles, a frantic suspense that goes to complete a surrealistic plot. The final result is a great movie with nothing obvious and it makes good homages to Kafka's work, and homages to another classic films. It is an interesting cross between "The Third Man" and "Brazil", the visual of those two films combined along with the almost colorless Kafka's books are put together in here.
Walt Lloyd's cinematography is one of the most interesting and effective work ever made in film history, a photography that goes from black and white to color in a great way, showing these two worlds that seem to distant so each other when in fact they're close enough. In this case you can sense that the colorful world presented in the castle isn't better than the oppressive grey world outside of its dominions, the colors are presented only to tell us a frightening reality that is so shocking that we really want to go back to the black and white world along with Kafka. And as a great mind said one time: "The black and white doesn't lie".
Unnoticed in its time "Kafka" is a cult film that must be revered by everyone and must of all revered by Kafka's fans even though this is not a biographical movie, it's more like a film that reveals more of his persona and an invitation to visually penetrate to his own creations. Or don't you think that we don't live in a Kafkanian nightmare in a Kafkanian world? 10/10
Some see this film as a step down from Steven Soderbergh's
brilliantly-constructed debut feature, "sex, lies and videotape." I see it
as a significant step in his artistic development (even if its commercial
and critical failure limited the audiences for his next several films).
Certainly no one expected him to follow the low-key, character-driven "sex,
lies" with such a complicated, stylized film as "Kafka."
An inspired script by Lem Dobbs and a great cast drive Soderbergh's visually rich film. Besides the leads, of note are Joel Grey as the self-important bureaucrat Burgel, Brian Glover as the menacing Castle Henchman, and Keith Allen and Simon McBurney as Kafka's side-splittingly incompetent "assistants." And Cliff Martinez's score (inspired by "The Third Man") is ingenious.
To call this film underrated would be a severe understatement.
The above statement (coined by myself in an odd bout of pretension) refers
to any film in which the central character inhabits a world in which
has no say in their own outcome; everything is pre-destined from the
The actors therefore become mere marionettes, puppets controlled by the
film-makers as a function to drive the plot, or the story that is
in this world. With Kafka, we never really feel too much of a connection
with the man himself (main character Kafka played by Jeremy Irons), but we
are interested in his outcome because the subjective reality of his world
draws us in. Sometimes this idea of the atmosphere of a film being what
draws us in can go horribly wrong, it's not like say, Gone in 60 seconds
(2000)... I'm not talking about a thick, glowing sludgy style of
cinematography that has become all the more popular with younger
film-makers. I am instead talking about the more classical style of film,
composition, lighting and production design... Kafka has this in
Steven Soderbergh is possibly the most talented director at work at the moment (that's debatable, but he is the most talented American director of the last fifteen years), his ability to effortlessly switch both genre and cinematic devise is a talent most directors lack, but Soderbergh went from the low-key drama of Sex, Lies & Videotape to the arty-thriller Kafka, and then moved onto the arty-low-key drama King of the Hill... Those where films that where brimming with ideas, mood and a strong independent visual sense, something his more recent films lack. With Kafka, Soderbergh applied the dark, noir-ish style of Wells and Bergman, with just the right blend of modern multi-media devises, colour is used to show the jarring contrast between the real-world (the subjective reality) to the horror's of the Castle. The skewed angles and the editing of certain scenes not only give the film a certain style, but help the audience identify between the different dreamscapes the film switches between, weather it be the world or Kafka's own imagination.
Much has been said in recent IMDB reviews about how the film is a betrayal of Kafka, having never read a word of Kafka I cannot comment, but I think people should allow Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs some artistic licensing. This is not an attempt to tell the life story of Kafka, it's more a "what if..." scenario, what if actual events dictated the writings of Kafka. The film blares the boundaries between fantasy and reality, and this is the point, this is why the film is set-up to conform to Subjective reality, we are being taken into Kafka's own world, a world he has absolutely no control over. Besides, most people are missing the point, and that is the film is a fantasy, not historical document, none of these would be literati's have mentioned the exemplary acting of all concerned.
Jeremy Irons is an actor I usually have little time for, in all honesty I have only seen a handful of his films and few of them left an impression, but here he is cast well, his stuffy British-ness and detached glare makes him an almost mythical figure, drifting around the city unsure of what will happen next. And the supporting cast is very credible, with roles for the legendary Alec Guinness, Ian Holm in a role not too dissimilar to the one he played in Gilliam's Brazil, Verhoeven regular Jeroen Krabbé puts in an appearance as one of Kafka's few allies and Armin Mueller-Stahl plays the dogged police inspector. The only annoyance amongst the cast is "Fat Les" himself Keith Allen as one half of a laughable (un)funny Laurel and Hardy-esque double act. Kafka is an unbelievably assured film from the (then) young Soderbergh that needs to be seen by more people besides Kafka fanatics who are only destroying the mystique of the film with their propaganda. This is a standout fantasy-thriller that has more style and intelligence than anything you'll find playing at you're local multiplex. 10/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kafka, a clerk at a Prague insurance firm, is upset when a friend
mysteriously vanishes. Investigating the disappearance, he uncovers a
group of terrorists trying to expose a secret police state where all
non-conformists are kidnapped and murdered.
This is a terrific mosaic of a picture; part biopic (Franz Kafka was a clerk, did not get on with his father, asked a friend to destroy his manuscripts and died of tuberculosis), part adaptation of Kafka's fiction (notably The Castle and The Trial), part homage to German expressionist cinema (Holm's character is called Murnau), and an enjoyably scary Gothic thriller with a great mad cast. Irons is a perfectly repressed hero, Russell is as gorgeous and intimidating as ever, Krabbe steals his scenes as a canny gravedigger, Mueller-Stahl is a copper from forties film-noir complete with razor-blade voice, Glover is an iconic villain and Allen and McBurney have a whale of a time as two pratfalling assistants. The script is a bit disposable, but it captures the essence of Kafka's nightmarish scribblings perfectly - hideous bureaucracy, impotent heroes, monstrous cabals, devious conspiracies and an overwhelming sense that truth and beauty are beyond our grasp. Shot in Prague in glorious black-and-white on fantastic period locations and stunning sets by production designer Gavin Bocquet. This is a great filmmaker's film - it's impossible to imagine it existing in any other form of expression, and it manages to be richly artistic but at the same time extremely enjoyable and completely lacking in pretension. Soderbergh is a bit of an enigma to me - this is a great movie, as is his subsequent film, King Of The Hill, but both bombed financially, whereas many of his later more commercial and critically-lauded movies are much less interesting. Check out Kafka though - it's got style, scares and terrific performances, and it's about the greatest paranoid fantastist that ever lived.
This film is a tribute to Franz Kafka, with a plot inspired from his
writings. Without reading at least one book by Kafka, the film is
totally incomprehensible. A writer that lived at the end of the 18th
century and the start of the 19th, he wrote about the depressing world
of oppressing capitalism, the same mass oriented philosophy that
inspired fascism and communism alike. His books were never happy and
their ending was often depressing.
So why should this film be any different? The plot is kind of shifty, but the acting, cinematography, location and music are great. After seeing this film, I can't imagine anybody else but Jeremy Irons in the lead role.
Bottom line: it's about the feeling. The same dark feeling that Kafka expressed through his books is expressed by this movie. The story (a mix of Kafka subjects) is just a pretext. Be warned, though, that it is not an easy movie. It is a noir and heavy film.
Much like David Cronenberg's 'Naked Lunch', 'Kafka' attempts to merge a
biographical film and a literary adaptation, by combining elements from
Franz Kafka's notoriously unfilmable books and stories with details
from his real life. The thing is, where Steven Soderbergh's film is an
admirable effort at filming Kafka's work, other films by more
accomplished directors, made around the same time or several years
earlier, managed to capture Kafka's spirit much more successfully
without ever mentioning his name or the title of any of his works -
Scorsese's 'After Hours', Woody Allen's 'Shadows and Fog', and to a
lesser extent Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' and Joel & Ethan Coen's 'Barton
Fink' all achieve Kafka's unique feeling of futility and paranoia, as
well as his pitch black sense of humor, while 'Kafka' resembles Kafka's
writing mainly on the surface. This is the script's fault more than
Soderbergh's, because the film looks great and delivers the dark, weird
disconcerting feeling of Kafka's works, but by not delving into the
philosophy behind them, by having almost no sense of humor, and by
adhering to a pretty straightforward conspiracy plot, it remains little
more than an aesthetic illustration of what a Kafka film might look
Despite a weak script, the film manages several memorable scenes, mainly thanks to terrific cinematography and a wonderful cast - Jeremy Irons, surprisingly, not being one of the film's standout performance. Rather, it's more minor characters played by Joel Grey, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Keith Allen, Simon McBurney and the great Alec Guinness in his last feature film role that stick to the viewer's mind, and for brief moments they can create the sense of paranoia, of surreal, nightmarish bureaucracy that is at the root of Kafka's writing; again, without the underlying philosophy, there's something unsatisfying about the overall result, and the story keeps distracting from the more interesting aspects. The film is, overall, interesting but frustrating; it's probably worth watching for Kafka fans, but it's not good enough to truly appease them. On the other hand, it may be too confusing for anyone who isn't familiar enough with his work.
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