Kinoeye, Vol. 2, Issue №13
Andrew James Horton

"Russian audiences mostly do not know Kafka," director Valery Fokin says in the press release for Prevrashchenie (The Metamorphosis, 2002). Franz Kafka's works were not published until after his death in 1924, by which time a repressive brand of Communism was spreading its tentacles in Russia. Allegorical tales of individuals lost in a dehumanising bureaucracy were distinctly out of fashion with anyone who wanted to stay out of the GULAG. Even now, many Russians think that the Prague author is "dismal and brainsick."

Prevrashchenie, presented as a "special event" at Karlovy Vary, is an attempt to reverse this state of affairs by Fokin, whose long career in theater has included a 1997 production of The Metamorphosis (which has also travelled to the Czech Republic). Fokin's film interpretation concentrates heavily on the actor [Yevgeny Mironov], playing the hapless Gregor Samsa. For the audience's eyes, Samsa never leaves human form, and his dung beetle manifestation is expressed in a series of body movements and gross facial expressions. The pace is languid, with the ennui of the transfigured salesman's life portrayed in languid dream sequences of waiting on train platforms on rainy days in the company of Magritte-like figures in black hats and suits.

For all this, though, Prevrashchenie offers no new surprises to non-Russians, and does little to push back the understanding of Kafka and his work to audiences who are more used to his style.