Film

The Castle (Michael Haneke, 1998)

Haneke vs Kafka.
I like both so you’d think this film would be dynamite, unfortunately the challenge of adapting Kafka’s works about moral and social alienation, and his existential angst about identity in the face of Draconian bureaucracy, has never been simple, unsurprisingly. Much better approaches to his style and themes (coined with the phrase ‘Kafkaesque’, which is synonymous with ‘weird’ and ‘nighmarish’) can be found in films such as Brazil, Eraserhead, Barton Fink,The Conformist, The Singing Detective, Taxi Driver, Trainspotting, Donnie Darko, Momento, Fight Club, Punchdrunk Love, Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Being John Malkovich. All of which were much more entertaining than the faithful adaptations of his work such as Orsen Welles’ The Trial (1962) or Steven Soderberg’s faux biopic Kafka (1991).
 
I’ve seen most of Hanake’s films, but often can barely remember these, partly because they’re sometimes boring for being esoteric, and partly because the stories and characters are extremely unpleasant. I can’t identify a particular Auteur visual style or theme to his work, except his they normally focus on characters who are tormented, either physically or psychologically, sometimes by a community or individuals for some political or social motive.
Often, as with Funny Games (97), Hidden (2005) and The Piano Teacher (2001), he appears to examine the moral complacency of the bourgeoisie middle-classes and their efforts to conceal their past crimes. But this could just be incidental.
 
The Castle, an unfinished Kafka novel from 1926, shows Haneke’s taste for cruelty, public humiliation, concealed crimes and paranoia. He presents the futile attempts of his anonymous protaganist, ‘K’, to seek the truth in a typically reticent and chastised fashion. Oddly, Haneke includes the novel’s third person narrator to describe the events and character’s thoughts during the silent scenes. This feels extremely awkward and superfluous during these the scenes and overall plot, but perhaps if we didn’t have a voice-over explaining everything in a monotone voice, we wouldn’t understand who the characters were and they would seem even more two-dimensional.
 
‘K’ arrives at village pub and is immediately treated with suspicious by the hostile locals. He claims to be a land surveyor, employed by the lord of The Castle, and his first obstacle comes when he’s told that he is forbidden to communicate with anyone from The Castle directly,and must do so only through a nominated contact, whom of which might be misleading him.
 
It seems there’s an absurd conspiracy afoot and ‘K’ feels compelled to reach the castle and confront his employer. In his pursuit, he is decieved and misinformed by various officials and employees of the Castle, who tell him that they’d never sent for a Land Surveyor in the first place. He is later hired as a Janitor and falls in love with an elusive barmaid, and who he decides to marry despite the scandal and trouble this causes. He then learns that this may or may not be part of the conspiracy to prevent him from reaching The Castle and assuming his position.
 
It’s easy to compare The Castle with films like Being John Malkovich, Brazil, Barton Fink, Fight Club, Momento, or The Conformist, where the characters are continually abused and decieved by those around them. Unlike those films, which are surreal and comical, Haneke firmly sets the film in a place of realism, not dissimilar to the rural, isolated village we observe in his pre-WW1 location for The White Ribbon. The tones are painfully grey and brown as the slack-faced, permanently exhausted ‘K’ trudges from one sparse location to the next.  It’s like Haneke has deliberately drained all the life and colour from the world, and this may make it a brilliant adaptation of Kafka’s novel, or it could just be boring and esoteric.

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