This second film adaptation of Franz Kafka's 1925 novel (Orson Welles' version had appeared more than 30 years previously) emphasizes the themes of generational conflict and sexual guilt, with a touch of Central European posturing thrown in for good measure.
Prague, 1912. A week after being mysteriously arrested and then released by two policemen, bank clerk Josef K (Kyle MacLachlan) is summoned to a court hearing where, unable to make sense of what is happening, he berates the Examining Magistrate (Trevor Peacock) and the legal system. When Josef
returns a week later, the court is not in session, but he does encounter the wife (Catherine Neilson) of the court usher (Patrick Godfrey). She makes a somewhat lascivious offer of help to Josef before being carried off by a student with whom she had been making love during Josef's first visit to
the court. The usher then appears and gives Josef a tour of the court offices. When he returns to work, Josef is astonished to discover the two arresting officers being whipped in a cupboard, and runs away in terror.
Josef's Uncle (Robert Lang) introduces him to a lawyer, Huld (Jason Robards), but while the two older men are talking Josef is tempted out of the room by Leni (Polly Walker). After he makes love to the woman, who is Huld's servant and, we suspect, mistress, she tells him to consult a portrait
painter, Titorelli (Alfred Molina), who may be able to help him. All Titorelli does, however, is to hold forth on some arcane aspects of the legal system, before turning his attention to a group of young women who approach him. Josef returns to Huld and fires him as his lawyer, despite a
demonstration of power that Huld gives by humiliating a man whose case has been going on for five years.
Turning up early at the cathedral for a meeting with a client, Josef comes upon the court priest, (Anthony Hopkins), who tells him a chilling fable about his legal dilemma. Later that night, Josef is escorted from his room by two new policemen and taken to a quarry, where one of them stabs him
With a screenplay by Harold Pinter and directed by David Jones, this is a relatively naturalistic version of Kafka's story that makes extensive use of its Prague locations: cavernous cathedrals, steep alleys, labyrinthine hallways, walnut-panelled rooms. In fact, the Czech capital emerges more
strongly than any of the actors; MacLachlan, in particular, gives a stiff performance, perhaps because he's preoccupied with the idea that this is a "classic."
Several individual sequences work well--especially the first hearing, which has the look of an Old Testament scene transposed to turn-of-the century Prague--and all the tones and colors are suitably somber, from the black suit Josef is ordered to wear for his appearance, to the mass of people in
the court's hallways and at an odd hearing room atop a crowded tenement. Nonetheless, one misses the studio-bound expressionism of the Welles version, which created a far more brooding sense of doom. (Adult situations, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: This second film adaptation of Franz Kafka's 1925 novel (Orson Welles' version had appeared more than 30 years previously) emphasizes the themes of generational conflict and sexual guilt, with a touch of Central European posturing thrown in for good measur… (more)