(SCREENED AT THE 2003 LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL.) Contrary to the popular perception, Franz Kafka was not a humorless, paranoid drone. In fact, he thought his stories were riotously funny; whenever he'd read them aloud to his friends, he'd inevitably dissolve into helpless laughter. I wish somebody had told this to director Shoja Azari before he shot K, an ambitious but torpid and all too reverent adaptation of three Kafka stories.Azari tries like hell to load K with moody atmosphere--he shot it in crisp B&W (an unimaginative aesthetic choice), for that teutonic gloom-and-doom look--but the result plays like a ponderous off-Broadway production. A big, big drawback is the stilted dialogue, which sounds like a bad translation from another language. Half the time the actors don't even seem like they're trying to sound natural; they tend to talk like they're reciting the Dead Sea Scrolls. Stylization on film often backfires terribly; words that read acceptably on the page can sound absurd up there on the screen in 35mm. All those pregnant pauses and arch dialogue rapidly turn K a tedious low-pitched whine of a movie. And it doesn't really do justice to Kafka; it sounds all the right notes but still gets the music wrong.
K is the sort of movie that seems designed to be admired rather than enjoyed--thing is, there isn't even all that much to admire. It's just so self-consciously executed that it never comes alive. Even the few comic relief bits seem half-hearted, and they fall flat.I give Azari an "A" for effort; he gave it a good try, and you can admire his seriousness of purpose. But a little bit of energy would have gone a long way. Even Kafka would have thought so.