Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriters: Lem Dobbs

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


For the eagerly awaited follow-up to his hugely successful sex, lies, and videotape, Steven Soderbergh has opted for the expressionistic angst of a period murder mystery. Kafka is a stylish, paranoid, suspense thriller depicting a fictionalized Franz Kafka as an alienated writer working as a menial clerk in the bureaucratic offices of an impersonal insurance company who is caught up in an obsessive and futile search for the truth in a nightmarish world resembling one of his own literary creations.

When his one friend, a fellow writer named Eduard, disappears, Kafka sets out to find him. Two sinister men take him to the city morgue to identify Eduard’s body. Told his friend committed suicide but unconvinced by the evidence, Kafka seeks out Gabriela, a co-worker at the office and Eduard’s lover. She explains that Eduard was murdered as part of a vast and horrifying government conspiracy. Dismissing both explanations as equally preposterous, Kafka begins a frustrating search for answers. Instead the quest plunges a bewildered Kafka deep within a labyrinthine mystery that masks the complex, ominous nature of the state and its activities. In the ensuing nightmare, grotesquely deformed madmen, sinister “officials,” mass executions and the looming, impenetrable Castle are clues that unveil a fantastic, horrifying—and for Kafka, inspiring—truth about his world.

Jeremy Irons leads an all-star cast as the legendary writer, Theresa Russell plays the bewitching Gabriela, and Sir Alec Guinness and Joel Grey stylishly portray the usual self-absorbed bureaucratic characters. With Prague providing a baroque backdrop and Walt Lloyd the potent black-and-white photography, Kafka is a visual tour-de-force, owing more to the writer’s cinematic disciples than to Kafka himself. Soderbergh ambitiously blends elements from German Expressionist horror, Fritz Lang thrillers, and Orson Welles noir with absurd Hitchcockian humor to launch us into Kafka’s ambiguous universe.

— Alberto Garcia

Screening Details

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