I have only read one piece by Kafka, Metamorphosis. Despite this lack of Kafka experience, I still knew enough about Kafka to know that a Kafka film is going to be a mind fuck. (I rarely see mind fuck films; the most recent I saw was Under the Skin. I can’t say that I would watch it again, but I do not regret watching the film in any way.)
Kafka’s The Burrow tells the story of Franz, who only feels safe in one portion of his apartment building, and senses that his enemies are encroaching on this sacred space. I do not want to say much more about the plot. First of all, much of the film hinges on blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Second of all, the movie is less about a sequence of events as it is about producing a mood or sensibility, which it does very successfully.
The main problem with this movie is the length. At 110 minutes, this is long for a film festival film. Worse, it is based on a short story, so there is nowhere near enough material to sustain a nearly two hour movie, so there were plenty of moments when it felt long. Boy did it feel long.
With the length, I began to be very frustrated at the main character’s monologues. Much of the dialogue is taken directly from Kafka’s short story. I asked a friend of mine what the role of Kafka is in German literature. Other than the fact that Goethe is the German Shakespeare, I know next to nothing about German literature. She assured me that Kafka was one of the heavy hitters. Perhaps the German audience would recognize the text of The Burrow in Franz’s monologues and would respond to it with a sense of familiarity, even affection. Unfortunately, I simply reached the point at the end when I literally thought to myself, “Oh Jesus, he’s talking again!”
On the other hand, the film was certainly not without its strengths. The set, costume, and makeup design for this film was tremendous. I also loved how they shot the film. The film conveys a wonderful sense of paranoia and impending destruction, as well as skews the audience’s perceptions of what is real and what is fantasy. The film was wonderfully suspenseful, when it wasn’t terribly boring.
This is a wonderful example of a literary work not matching the film medium. Not all stories are meant to be feature films. For an example of an excellent match of medium, watch the BBC’s Little Dorritt or Bleak House. The BBC shot these gigantic novels in serial form, with about twenty episodes about a half hour long. They are wonderful because they are a perfect marriage of subject and medium. Dickens wrote his novels as serials which were published in periodicals, very similar to a mini-series or short series.
The Burrow is an unfinished story, not a novel. This film should have been a short film, not a full length feature film. The director, Jochen Alexander Freydank, is an experienced short film director. His film Toyland won Best Short Live Action Film at the Oscars a few years ago. I commend the director for taking chances with this film; I just wish they had worked out better.
(In short, the film was too well made to be Poor, but had too many long, boring, and frustrating moments to be Good.)