Dennis Grunes

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from disquieting dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

Written in German, Czech author Franz Kafka's satirical 1912 The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) weighs the sense of isolation and alienation that has overtaken a travelling salesman. Gregor's "disquieting dreams" reflect his waking life, which, except that Kafka's was at a desk, mirror Kafka's humdrum clerical work. By his dreams Gregor imagines his own death.

Valery Fokin's Prevrashchenie is mesmerizing – and painfully hilarious. Now a period piece, it's part of our dream of the modern past. During opening credits a sepia photograph of a corner of Gregor's bed appears, joined by the trace sound of lapping water, suggesting the unconscious. The film proper begins, surely, as a black-and-white dream (except for a disquieting patch of pink), where the sound has materialized as falling rain. The camera glides to reveal a train silently pulling in at the Prague station. (The muffled measured drumbeat could be the dreamer's heartbeat.) Passengers exit. "Mother, father, it's Gregor!" we hear, as the camera withdraws from a solemnly dressed man standing on the platform; Gregor imagines the greeting, for he walks alone a long way home, shielding himself from the rain with his suitcase. More and more color slips into view; by rote, Gregor leans in at the dinner table so that Mother can dab clean a corner of his mouth. That night, Gregor dreams of yet another train departure; the conductor is his indifferent father, drawing from Gregor a quizzical look.

Next morning, Gregor cannot get off his back and out of bed – until he falls onto the floor, anxiously flexing hands and feet. Yevgeny Mironov's performance is phenomenal. Through body movements, contortions and noises, he expresses how Gregor feels – what Gregor has turned into.