Kafka (1991)

PG-13 | 98 mins | Drama, Mystery | 4 December 1991

Director:

Steven Soderbergh

Writer:

Lem Dobbs

Cinematographer:

Walt Lloyd

Production Designer:

Gavin Bocquet

Production Companies:

Pricel, Baltimore Pictures
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HISTORY

       The role of “Gabriela Rossman” underwent several casting changes. On 7 Apr 1990, a Screen International news brief indicated that actress Isabelle Adjani had been cast opposite Jeremy Irons. One month later, on 26 May 1990, Screen International announced that Valeria Golina would co-star in the picture. By the time production began, French actress Anne Parillaud was listed among the cast, as indicated in an 18 Sep 1990 HR production chart. However, a 25 Nov 1990 LAT article reported that, although Parillaud filmed one scene under Steven Soderbergh’s direction, she withdrew from the production, citing language barriers. Theresa Russell was then “quickly drafted” to step into the role.
       An Oct 1991 article in Film Connoisseur suggested that filmmakers made changes to Lem Dobbs’s screenplay early into production. Actor Jeremy Irons recalled: “Trying to create [the character] Kafka by having a man say the things [Franz] Kafka said … didn’t really work.” In a 30 Dec 1991 LAT article, director Soderbergh acknowledged that he altered lines of dialogue because he wanted to create a “mystery thriller, not a biography.” However, upon seeing the finished film, screenwriter Dobbs expressed frustration with the script’s revisions, stating that the actors sounded as if they were “making up” words. Soderbergh countered with the claim, “Changes were not made arbitrarily.”
       Although a 20 Apr 1990 HR article indicated that filming would begin at the beginning of August, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, principal photography did not begin until 17 Sep 1990. Production notes in AMPAS library files mention Soderbergh’s desire to film the picture in Kafka’s home city of Prague. “No ... More Less

       The role of “Gabriela Rossman” underwent several casting changes. On 7 Apr 1990, a Screen International news brief indicated that actress Isabelle Adjani had been cast opposite Jeremy Irons. One month later, on 26 May 1990, Screen International announced that Valeria Golina would co-star in the picture. By the time production began, French actress Anne Parillaud was listed among the cast, as indicated in an 18 Sep 1990 HR production chart. However, a 25 Nov 1990 LAT article reported that, although Parillaud filmed one scene under Steven Soderbergh’s direction, she withdrew from the production, citing language barriers. Theresa Russell was then “quickly drafted” to step into the role.
       An Oct 1991 article in Film Connoisseur suggested that filmmakers made changes to Lem Dobbs’s screenplay early into production. Actor Jeremy Irons recalled: “Trying to create [the character] Kafka by having a man say the things [Franz] Kafka said … didn’t really work.” In a 30 Dec 1991 LAT article, director Soderbergh acknowledged that he altered lines of dialogue because he wanted to create a “mystery thriller, not a biography.” However, upon seeing the finished film, screenwriter Dobbs expressed frustration with the script’s revisions, stating that the actors sounded as if they were “making up” words. Soderbergh countered with the claim, “Changes were not made arbitrarily.”
       Although a 20 Apr 1990 HR article indicated that filming would begin at the beginning of August, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, principal photography did not begin until 17 Sep 1990. Production notes in AMPAS library files mention Soderbergh’s desire to film the picture in Kafka’s home city of Prague. “No other city looks like this,” he claimed, referring to its twisting cobblestone streets and myriad architectural styles. He also felt that the Czech capital possessed a quality that “resonated beyond” its castles and baroque towers. Film Connoisseur stated that the location used for “Kafka’s” apartment had once been a Nazi Party interrogation office. Soderbergh also chose to shoot in black and white to capture the shadowy and sinister atmosphere of 1920s German Expressionist films. However, he added a fourteen-minute color scene when Kafka entered the “castle,” but avoided “primary colors, anything even remotely normal.”
       One of the villains, “Dr. Murnau,” oversees experiments at the “Orlac” factory. This was apparently Soderbergh’s homage to German director F. W. Murnau, whose 1922 classic, Nosferatu, featured a vampire named “Orlok.”
       In addition to filming on Prague’s winding streets, production occurred on soundstages at Barrandov Studios, located a short distance from the capital city. There, three “elaborate sets” were constructed: the insurance firm’s various adjoining offices, “Murnau’s” office and laboratory, and a room containing the giant microscope lens. Production designer Gavin Bocquet described the benefits of working on the studio’s over-sized soundstages. The microscope lens, for example, was twenty-four feet in diameter and required rear-projection through the apparatus itself. Like the location for Kafka’s apartment, Barrandov Studios had its own Nazi past: Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels had offices there, and the facilities were used to make pro-Nazi films.
       On 7 Dec 1990, DV announced that filming on Kafka had ended. However, five months later, filmmakers assembled a crew for additional photography. Although a 3 May 1991 Screen International news brief indicated that the reshoot would take place in Prague, Film Connoisseur stated that Soderbergh spent the two weeks of additional photography in London, UK. Onscreen credits confirm that additional photography occurred at Pinewood Studios in Great Britain.
       A 5 Sep 1991 HR article announced that, following two weeks of industry screenings, Kafka had been acquired for distribution by Miramax Films. The studio planned a late-Nov release of the $12-million picture. However, the film did not open until 4 Dec 1991, and then only for a limited one-week run in New York and Los Angeles. Contemporary reviews in DV and the NYT noted that the opening allowed Kafka to qualify for Academy Awards consideration. The movie screened at the Sundance and Palm Springs Film Festivals in Jan 1992 before re-opening in wide release.
       End credits include the following acknowledgements: “Special thanks: H. A. Rodchenko; Charles J. D. Schlissel; Charles Beworth; Solid State Logic; Lucasarts Editing Systems; Graham Daniel; Bill Rowe; John P.; Michal Jansa; Laurent Pétin; Opcode Systems; David Zicarelli; Stuart Brotman; Cooper Sound Systems.” End credits also state: “Filmed on location and at Filmové Studio Barrandov, Prague, Czechoslovakia,” and, “Additional photography at Pinewood Studios, Iver, Bucks, UK.”
      End credits conclude with the following statement: “Although this motion picture is inspired by the life and writings of Franz Kafka, the story, names, characters, and incidents portrayed are all fictitious. No identifications with actual persons, living or dead, is intended or should be inferred.” Kafka’s first name is never used.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
7 Dec 1990.
---
Daily Variety
3 Dec 1991
p. 2, 18.
Film Connoisseur
Oct 1991
pp. 58, 60-62, 115.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Apr 1990
p. 1, 67.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1991
p. 1, 28.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 1991
p. 8, 70.
Los Angeles Times
25 Nov 1990
pp. 20-22.
Los Angeles Times
4 Dec 1991
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
30 Dec 1991.
---
New York Times
4 Dec 1991
Section C, p. 21.
Screen International
7 Apr 1990.
---
Screen International
26 May 1990.
---
Screen International
3 May 1991.
---
Variety
9 Dec 1991
pp. 73-74.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Pricel Presents
A Baltimore Pictures Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir, Addl photog
2d asst dir, Addl photog
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Focus puller
Clapper/Loader
Cam grip
Gaffer
Gaffer
Best boy
Genny op
Rigger
Process photog
Process photog asst
Process photog asst
Brain and eye photog
Louma crane op
Louma crane grip
Stills photog
Gaffer, Addl photog
Best boy, Addl photog
Cam grip, Addl photog
Main title still photog
Lighting equip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Sketch artist
Prod des, Addl photog
FILM EDITORS
Picture ed
Asst ed (UK), Addl photog
Asst ed, Picture & sound
Asst ed (UK)
Apprentice picture ed
Negative cutting
Cutting continuity
Picture editing performed on the
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Asst set dec
Prop master
Stand-by prop
Stand-by prop
Stand-by prop
Const coord
Painter
Painter
Prop master, Addl photog
Const mgr, Addl photog
Prod buyer, Addl photog
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Ward mistress
Asst cost des, Addl photog
MUSIC
Mus programming
Mus rec
Cafe music performed and arr by
SOUND
Sd des/Sd ed and re-rec
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Sd asst
Boom op, Addl photog
Sd ed and re-rec
Addl sd eff ed
Sd eff librarian
Dolby Stereo consultant
Weddington rec
Weddington rec
Foley by
Foley by
Foley mixer
Foley rec
Foley rec at
ADR mixer
ADR supv (UK)
Re-recorded in a
VISUAL EFFECTS
Art dir (special effects unit)
Spec eff supv
Spec eff tech
Main and end titles des and prod by
MAKEUP
Chief makeup artist
Chief hairdresser
Makeup/Hairdressing
Makeup/Hairdressing
Chief hairdresser, Addl photog
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Makeup bus driver
Prod coord
Producer's asst
Producer's asst
Producer's asst
London contact
Prod driver
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
President
Pre-prod runner
Prod controller
Prod supv
Prod mgr/Studio
Prod mgr/Loc
Unit mgr
Unit mgr
Studio coord
Studio coord
Interpreter
Interpreter
Interpreter
Interpreter
Interpreter
Interpreter
Prod accountant
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Post-prod accountant
Unit pub
Casting asst (UK)
Prague casting
Scr supv, Addl photog
Prod runner, Addl photog
Unit car, Addl photog
Catering supv
Catering mgr
Chef
Catering asst
Prod insurers
UK crew insurers
Travel agent
Shipping agent
Shipping agent
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt double - Castle henchman
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
DETAILS
Release Date:
4 December 1991
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 4 December 1991
Production Date:
17 September--early December 1990, May 1991
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo® Spectral Recording in selected theatres
Color
Camera stocks Eastman EXR 5296
Black and White
Camera stocks Eastman D-X 5222
Lenses
Filmed with Panavision® cameras and lenses
Prints
DuArt Film Laboratories, Inc.
Duration(in mins):
98
Length(in feet):
8,851
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Countries:
France, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
31326
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1919 Prague, Czechoslovakia, a man is strangled in an alley. The killer laughs uncontrollably as he rummages through the dead man’s pockets and finds a photograph, which he hands to an observer standing nearby. A few days later, Kafka, an insurance claims writer, pauses from his work and notices the empty desk across from him. Burgel, the office manager, prompts the daydreaming man to get back to work. Later that afternoon, Burgel reprimands another worker, Gabriela, for her tardiness. When the woman storms out of the office, Kafka follows her, inquiring about their mutual acquaintance, Eduard Raban. Gabriela, bewildered, dismisses Kafka’s questions. After work, Kafka stops at an apartment building and asks to be let into Eduard’s rooms. Finding no one inside, Kafka goes to the Café Continental, where he asks patrons if they have seen his friend. He notices Gabriela sitting with comrades and again mentions that he cannot locate Eduard. This time, she acknowledges his distress. When Kafka leaves, Gabriela’s anarchist friends insist on knowing what she has revealed to her coworker. Kafka walks home, gazing at the castle on the hill above the city. A passerby enthuses about Kafka’s short stories, which he enjoys reading. The man introduces himself as Bizzlebek, a sculptor. The two part ways, and Kafka returns home, where he writes a letter to his father. Just then, two men knock on Kafka’s door and escort him to the morgue, where he identifies the body of his friend, Eduard Raban. Kafka grows increasingly nervous as he tries to explain his relationship to Eduard to the inspector, Grubach. However, Grubach surprises Kafka by suggesting they may have mutual interests in finding out what ... +


In 1919 Prague, Czechoslovakia, a man is strangled in an alley. The killer laughs uncontrollably as he rummages through the dead man’s pockets and finds a photograph, which he hands to an observer standing nearby. A few days later, Kafka, an insurance claims writer, pauses from his work and notices the empty desk across from him. Burgel, the office manager, prompts the daydreaming man to get back to work. Later that afternoon, Burgel reprimands another worker, Gabriela, for her tardiness. When the woman storms out of the office, Kafka follows her, inquiring about their mutual acquaintance, Eduard Raban. Gabriela, bewildered, dismisses Kafka’s questions. After work, Kafka stops at an apartment building and asks to be let into Eduard’s rooms. Finding no one inside, Kafka goes to the Café Continental, where he asks patrons if they have seen his friend. He notices Gabriela sitting with comrades and again mentions that he cannot locate Eduard. This time, she acknowledges his distress. When Kafka leaves, Gabriela’s anarchist friends insist on knowing what she has revealed to her coworker. Kafka walks home, gazing at the castle on the hill above the city. A passerby enthuses about Kafka’s short stories, which he enjoys reading. The man introduces himself as Bizzlebek, a sculptor. The two part ways, and Kafka returns home, where he writes a letter to his father. Just then, two men knock on Kafka’s door and escort him to the morgue, where he identifies the body of his friend, Eduard Raban. Kafka grows increasingly nervous as he tries to explain his relationship to Eduard to the inspector, Grubach. However, Grubach surprises Kafka by suggesting they may have mutual interests in finding out what happened to the dead man. At work the next day, Kafka’s boss offers him a promotion that had been intended for Eduard. However, Kafka is unimpressed with his new assistants, Ludwig and Oscar. Gabriela stops by and invites the writer on a walk. Outside, she confesses that she and Eduard were having an affair. She urges Kafka to help her find out what happened to her lover. That night, Kafka meets Gabriela and her friends in an abandoned building. They reveal that Eduard was a member of their revolutionary cause. Kafka listens in disbelief as they recount how one of Eduard’s insurance claims could only be resolved by a visit to the castle, a place despised by the anarchists. On the day of his appointment there, Eduard, a loyal extremist, intended to carry a briefcase bomb. However, there were never any reports of an explosion, and Eduard was never heard from again. The anarchists suspect the police of covering up Eduard’s murder. Angry at their random conjectures, Kafka leaves the building. Meanwhile, the laughing man kidnaps a vagrant sleeping in a park. The next day, Kafka meets Gabriela at Eduard’s apartment. As the woman sorts through her lover’s belongings, she cautions Kafka against opening a briefcase. Kafka asks if it is the bomb her friends spoke of, but Gabriela loses patience with his questions and leaves the apartment. Kafka goes to the window, surprised when Gabriela does not emerge onto the street below. Thinking she has been kidnapped, he calls Inspector Grubach. However, Grubach makes light of the woman’s disappearance. That night, Kafka stops by the Café Continental. Gabriela’s friends insist there is a conspiracy between Kafka’s insurance firm and the castle. The next day at work, Kafka asks to see Eduard’s file, but his boss says it contains nothing of interest. However, the writer learns the name of the insurance claim that Eduard planned to take to the castle. Kafka goes to the file room and locates the claim, a large volume documenting numerous accidental deaths at the Orlac factory. Kafka notices a photograph missing from the death record of “Dr. Murnau.” Kafka returns to his office, forced to work overtime when Burgel brings him a stack of claims at the end of the day. Late that night, Kafka is startled by the sound of breaking glass in the bathroom. When he investigates, the laughing man lunges through a window. Kafka flees the building and goes to the anarchists’ hideout, where he discovers they have been murdered. He spies a well-dressed man praising and escorting a lobotomized vagrant from the crime scene. Kafka follows the two men to the outskirts of town. As the vagrant is executed, Kafka stumbles in the bushes, alerting the well-dressed man to his presence. A chase ensues, but Kafka eludes capture. Later, he returns to his apartment, but before he can enter, Ludwig and Oscar confront him at gunpoint, delighted at the prospect of turning someone in to the castle. Just then, Bizzlebek rescues Kafka. He offers to help the writer gain access to the castle. Carrying Eduard’s briefcase, Kafka makes his way through a secret passageway underneath the castle, before emerging in a great file room. From there, he walks along empty corridors, entering several rooms but not finding the medical records office. Finally, a doctor asks if he can help. As they walk to the records office, the doctor explains that the castle’s medical team is working on creating a “more efficient” person. When the man remarks that another insurance claims writer recently paid a visit to their records office, Kafka realizes he is speaking to Dr. Murnau. The doctor reveals that Orlac factory workers are being used as subjects for the castle’s medical experiments. Upon a worker’s demise, the insurance firm processes a claim of “accidental” death, thus raising no suspicions. Horrified, Kafka tries to leave, but Dr. Murnau forces the writer to observe one of the medical procedures. Just then, the briefcase bomb explodes, and Kafka scrambles up scaffolding to the ceiling, escaping the castle. Back on the streets, Inspector Grubach’s men locate Kafka and escort him to the morgue. There, Kafka identifies the body of Gabriela Rossman. Although he suspects Gabriela was subjected to experiments at the castle, the writer uneasily agrees when Grubach pronounces her death a suicide. Kafka returns to his job at the insurance firm, plagued by a severe cough. In his spare time, he writes letters to his father, expressing his disillusionment with life. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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