In one sense, given their spare settings and allegorical feel, the stories of Franz Kafka could play out anywhere. But in another, one can only with difficulty separate those stories from the late 19th- and early 2oth-century central Europe in which Kafka himself spent his short life. This simultaneous connection to place and placelessness (and also, per David Foster Wallace’s interpretation, playfulness, or at least humor of some kind) has made Kafka’s work appealing material indeed for animators, some of whose work we’ve featured here on Open Culture before.
When filmmakers try their hands at live-action Kafka adaptations, though, they tend to find themselves performing acts of not just artistic but cultural transplantation. Just last year we posted Dominic Allen’s Two Men, an award-winning short film that relocates Kafka’s parable “Passers-by” to a remote section of Western Australia.
Working with a much longer and better-known piece of the Kafka canon, director Fran Estévez’s Metamorfosis brings the tale of Gregor Samsa’s sudden transformation into a large insect to Spain — or into the Spanish language, anyway.
The recipient of quite a few awards itself in South America and Europe (including a festival in Kafka’s own birthplace, the current Czech Republic), Metamorfosis combines Kafka’s still-startling man-turned-bug first-person narration with both stark black-and-white footage and illustrations to create just the right claustrophobic, askew atmosphere. The set design, which at certain moments feels right out of early Tim Burton, underscores the fairy-tale aspect of this grim work of imagination. But then, at the very end, the aesthetic ceiling lifts, widening the viewer’s perspective on not just the movie’s foregoing sixteen minutes but on the nature of The Metamorphosis, Kafka’s original story, itself — though, alas, things still don’t end particularly well for poor old Gregor Samsa.
Metamorfosis will be added to our list, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.