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PRODUCTION / FUNDING Czech Republic / Ireland

Franz Kafka biopic to be directed by Agnieszka Holland


- The team behind Charlatan, which sold to multiple territories, is behind the intriguing biopic on the pioneering and enigmatic 20th-century author

Franz Kafka biopic to be directed by Agnieszka Holland
A promotional image of Kafka (© Marlene Film Production)

One of the most influential authors of the 20th century is a German-speaking Jewish Bohemian whose larger oeuvre was left incomplete. The writer of The Metamorphosis, The Trial or The Castle, whose name is synonymous with surrealist and nightmarish visions, left a substantial imprint on literature and cinema alike. Despite the status of Franz Kafka, his life has been subject to a film adaption by Steven Soderbergh in 1991 in the French-American genre-bending noir thriller Kafka starring Jeremy Irons as the eponymous author. Now, acclaimed Polish director Agnieszka Holland is attached to helm a new biopic under the title Kafka on the tormented artist's life and what has become of his legacy.

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Holland joins the team behind the biopic about Czech healer Jan Mikolášek, Charlatan [+see also:
film review
interview: Agnieszka Holland
film profile
, with Šárka Cimbalová of Marlene Film Production as the main producer and Sam Taylor and Mike Downey of the Irish company Film and Music Entertainment (F&ME). Their previous collaboration was the Czech entry for Best International Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards and made the shortlist, and also received a European Film Award nomination and the Best Feature Film award at the Czech Lion Awards (read the news); it sold to multiple territories including the UK, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and France, but also Australia and New Zealand.

Marek Epstein penned the Kafka script, based on a story by Mike Downey and himself, which is a dramatisation of the writer's life from a cradle in pre-war Prague to his grave, in a series of standalone vignettes. “The film jumps forward in time to the fate of Kafka's sister, whose death he predicted, and to contemporary Prague where his influence today is stronger than ever,” note the producers.

“I would like to treat the film as a kind of collage; an assembling of scenes and stories from his life and books,” says the director, adding “I imagine a chamber portrait of a man; a reflection of how his life is relevant today.” According to the director's statement, Kafka's biopic will be less traditionalist compared to Charlatan, transcending the boundaries of a period film into the present times. Holland reveals that in order to understand the elusive writer who ordered his works to be destroyed after his death, they are going to piece together fragments from Kafka's past and oeuvre to create “a dazzling kaleidoscopic mosaic beyond not only his life towards the present but also to create a comprehensive view of the dramatic world of Kafka's imagination.” She then adds that they will be following the layout of “a mischievous fictional docu-drama in which nothing is impossible.”

The director elaborates: “Communist Czechoslovakia slowly and timidly began to return to his work in the mid-1960s, but then, during normalisation, his legacy was forgotten. That was until Kafka became a commercial tourist attraction and was memorialised by strange monuments. The fate of his books, his embarrassing loves, the relationship with his father, his failed engagements, his office work and tuberculosis are all well-documented in his diaries, letters, and many biographies. We know everything, but the secret of his fate and the influence his literature has on the world has never been fully revealed”. The shooting is planned to start in Spring 2023 as 2024 will mark the centenary of Kafka's untimely death from tuberculosis.

The producers will be presenting the project, which is currently in development, at the upcoming Berlinale Co-Production Market.

Kafka is produced the Czech outfit Marlene Film Production and Ireland's Film and Music Entertainment. The Czech Film Fund supported the development of the film.

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