Kafka (Steven Soderbergh, 1991) is ostensibly a biopic, based on the life of Franz Kafka, the film blurs the lines between fact and Kafka’s fiction (most notably The Castle and The Trial), creating a Kafkaesque atmosphere. It was written by Lem Dobbs, and stars Jeremy Irons in the title role (actually is a fictionalized composite of many of Franz Kafka’s literary protagonists), with Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Jeroen Krabbé, Joel Grey, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Alec Guinness.
Released after Soderbergh’s critically acclaimed debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape it was the first of what would be a series of low-budget box-office disappointments. It has since become a cult film, being compared to Terry Gilliam‘s Brazil and David Cronenberg‘s Naked Lunch.
In a 2013 interview with Vulture, Soderbergh stated that the rights to the film had reverted to him and executive producer Paul Rassam, and that work had begun on a “completely different” version of the movie. Soderbergh reported that he and Lem Dobbs did some rewriting, inserts were shot during the making of Side Effects, and he plans to dub the film into German and release both the original and new version together.
Cinematographer Walt Lloyd films the majority of Kafka in low-key black and white photography, and the amazing blocking and cutting by Soderbergh is reminiscent of such films as Orson Wells 1958 film, Touch of Evil. No joke, this film’s style is a thing of throwback beauty.
When Kafka switches to color photography for its tension-filled climax, there is a single slice of dialogue that perfectly sums up the film’s theme for me. A doctor (played by Ian Holm) insists, “A crowd is easier to control than an individual. A crowd has a common purpose. The purpose of the individual is always in question.”
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