The San Francisco Chronicle
Jeanne Carstensen


SF: A totally different issue of representation is raised by The Metamorphosis, the Russian director Valery Fokin's screen adaptation of Kafka's novel.

PS: The Metamorphosis is extraordinary. The notion of adapting this literary masterpiece – whose power is in walking a fine line between realistic depiction and something that is completely surreal – to such a literal medium as film, seems improbable. It's like, "Oh, my God, are they going to do like Spider-Man? Is the cockroach going to be all special effects and makeup?" Yevgeny Mironov, as Gregor Samsa, is masterful. He undergoes an incredible physical transformation. But that's what's so great – it's done without special effects, so it allows you to still think that this whole thing is maybe a fable – it could still be strictly a metaphorical transformation. I love, love, love how that's been realized.

SF: How will The Metamorphosis play in the context of the Jewish Film Festival?

PS: Kafka grew up in the profoundly Jewishly identified environment of German-speaking Prague. So Kafka the writer and Kafka the philosopher are intimately bound up with Kafka the Jew. Even though the film is not preoccupied with Jewish issues, and nor was the original story, it's very revealing to be able to do a reading of the film – and story – through a Jewish lens. And just putting it in the festival allows people to view it this way. What is the connection between being made to feel like a cockroach and an early-20th-century Jew living in German-speaking Prague? You don't have to be explicit about that, but it can be a revealing way of looking at the story. In addition, director Fokin makes an interesting choice. There are these people who take up residence in the Samsa household because Gregor can no longer produce income, because he's turned into a bug. So his parents rent out his room. Fokin recasts these lodgers, who are just described as ordinary workers in the story, as observant Jews. It's not a large moment, but it introduces a Jewish presence in the Samsa household in a way that isn't otherwise articulated.

You know, Saturday night at a film festival is the date movie. In the past, we've programmed a big music movie, or, at Frameline's lesbian and gay festival, they have a totally romantic, sexy film. I think it's wonderfully ironic that our date movie this year is Kafka! ...