Filmmaker Michael Haneke (Cache, The Piano Teacher) brings Franz Kafka's final unfinished manuscript to the screen in this thought-provoking, challenging and flawed work originally produced for Austrian television in 1997.
The story follows a man, referred to simply as K., who encounters maddening levels of bureaucracy as he attempts to simply do his job. K. is a land surveyor erroneously summoned to a small, snowy village maintained by a vast hierarchical network run out of "the castle." This castle is never seen, but its presence hangs over the village like a passive Big Brother to whom all citizens adhere with extreme deference. Every action and reaction has influence with the castle -- facts that prove the bane of K.'s existence when he tries to make contact with his superiors to straighten out his employment status. The more and more he digs and manipulates the community for help, the further isolated he becomes. In turn, K. slowly changes into a person fit for "the castle." Haneke handles the original manuscript with care, allowing voice-over narration to keep Kafka's words intact. His trademark detached camerawork follows the story while simultaneously capturing the dark beauty of the decrepit village. Ulrich Mühe, the late star of Best Foreign Language Film Oscar-winner The Lives of Others, is strong, bringing a steady calm to the stifled yet determined lead. Unfortunately, these pluses are dragged down by the film's unrelentingly slow pace, creating frustration that no doubt parallels that suffered by the unfortunate K. (Phil Morehart) Grade: B