Kafka on Screen: 5 Must-Watch Films Inspired by the Stories of Franz Kafka

Literary legend, Franz Kafka, has left generations of readers astounded with his fantastical stories, a style that has received its own special name – ‘Kafkaesque’. Alienation, existentialism, absurdity, all of it comes together in Kafka’s works to form a heady, surreal cocktail of words and imageries.

Several filmmakers have been inspired by Kafka’s stories, thereby creating some of the most visually stunning and eccentric works of cinema known to the world. Here are five outstanding adaptations of Kafka’s works one must watch:

The Trial (1962)

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Based on Franz Kafka’s novel of the same name, this 1962 film by director Orson Welles follows the story of a bureaucrat who is arrested and persecuted for a crime that is neither mentioned to the protagonist nor to the viewer. Not only is the film the filmmaker’s personal favourite, but over the years has also been touted as a cinematic masterpiece by critics.

Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1993)

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Peter Capaldi’s Academy award winning short-film, Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, begins where writer Kafka started his deliciously dark tale of a man’s metamorphosis into an insect — on a piece of paper. The film explores the frustration of a writer confronting a creative block, as interruptions from the world around keep pouring in, only to make him wonder what it is that his protagonist transforms into when he wakes up. A banana? A kangaroo?

Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor (2007)

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Multiple award-winning anime short-film, Koji Yamamura’s Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor, is an interpretation of Kafka’s short story by the same name. A bizarre chain of events unfolds when a country doctor visits a young patient in the middle of the night. Strange, unearthly horses, distorted houses and people, a young boy who oscillates between death and the will to die, Yamamura’s beautifully dark visuals married to Kafka’s haunting story leaves the audience questioning and wanting more.

The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (1978)

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What can be better than to watch your favourite story come alive in animation? The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa by Caroline Leaf is an animated short-film, using beach sand on a piece of glass. Fluid, shadowy images capturing the nightmarish nature of the original story, Leaf’s film is a stunning visual rendition of the most renowned work of Franz Kafka.

Watermelon Man (1970)

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Melvin Van-Peeble’s classic, Watermelon Man, is based on the premise of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. When ‘white insurance salesman’, Jeff Berger, wakes up to find himself in a black man’s body, (much like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa finds himself in a beetle’s body when he wakes up) all hell breaks loose as he initially tries to scrub off his dark skin in many creative ways.  After finally accepting his reality of having transformed into a black man, Berger ironically finds himself in situations which he looked down upon as a man of white descent.

Tell us which ‘Kafkaeqsue’ film is your favourite.

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The Penguin India Blog

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