Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life: The Oscar-Winning Film About Kafka Writing The Metamorphosis

Peter Capaldi is best known in the States for being the most recent actor to play Doctor Who. But did you know that he is also an Oscar-winning filmmaker? His brilliant short film Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life took the prize for Best Short Film in 1995.

The movie shows Kafka, on Christmas Eve, struggling to come up with the opening line for his most famous work, The Metamorphosis.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Capaldi wrings a lot of laughs out of Kafka’s inability to figure out what Samsa should turn into. A giant banana? A kangaroo? Even when the answer is literally staring at him in the face, Kafka is hilariously obtuse.

Richard E. Grant stars as the tortured, tightly-wound writer who is driven into fits as his creative process is interrupted for increasingly absurd reasons. The noisy party downstairs, it turns out, is populated by a dozen beautiful maidens in white. A lost delivery woman offers Kafka a balloon animal. A local lunatic searches for his companion named Jiminy Cockroach.

You can see the film above, helpfully subtitled in German. Also find it in our collection 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More, plus our list of 33 Free Oscar Winning Films Available on the Web.

Related Content:

Find Works by Kafka in our lists of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks

Watch Franz Kafka, the Wonderful Animated Film by Piotr Dumala

The Art of Franz Kafka: Drawings from 1907-1917

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

by | Permalink | Comments (8) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (8)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • food chick says:

    That was very good. Brilliant camera work. The last 4 mins. were totally absurd.

  • Michael says:


    When Peter Capaldi and Richard E Grant were making this, I wonder if they were conscious of the fact that Franz Kafka was Jewish?

    Or if it was a happy accident to place a Jew in the middle of a Christmas story? It’s A Wonderful Life suddenly becomes incredibly ironic. They give him maggots. Of course this movie plays on two stereotypes. The tortured artist & Kafka the myth (the high-strung neurotic), as opposed to Kafka the man.

  • Bart says:

    I have a hard time enjoying this film. Kafka speaking English? Okay, it’s less worse than movies in which Nazis are speaking all-American English, but still it annoys me (more than it should).

    Also, balloon animals? Not really historically accurate. :P

  • Joanna James says:

    Thank you for posting this. I saw this years ago on the A&E Channel…and loved it. It’s wonderful to be able to enjoy this film again.

  • Michael J. Tobias says:

    Sigh. Yet another so-called “free” movie that has been taken down. Does anyone keep up with this list? I’ve clicked on half a dozen and NONE of them have been available.

  • Robert says:

    I’ve had the DVD of this for years, and I love it. It’s a beautifully absurd look at a detail most people don’t ever think about. Of course, if you’re so pretentious that you can’t enjoy a piece of entertainment because the fictional take on the main character doesn’t speak the native language of the inspirational figure, or a minor historical inaccuracy gets your undies bunched so badly that you have to become a condescending nitpicker, don’t bother.

  • Brian says:

    I loved this. I shall watch it again on Christmas Eve.

  • reza says:

    Please email me the movie its a wonderful life

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.