K Emyr ap Richard and Darhad Erdenibulag

It’s not clear how a genuinely faithful adaptation of a Franz Kafka novel might strike viewers accustomed to the reductive cliché of the “Kafka-esque.” Kafka’s work can be at once stark and protean, deeply reliant on the sense of resistance and mystery built up in its prose, and so the makers of K seem to acknowledge the necessity of taking certain liberties: their adaptation of The Castle is set in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia—a place windswept and desolate, indoors and out.

Welsh filmmaker Emyr ap Richard and Darhad Erdenibulag, who hails from Inner Mongolia, co-direct Kafka’s tale of a stranger, K, who arrives in a baronial village purporting to be a land-surveyor and must struggle mightily to prove his legitimacy. Like him, we glimpse little more than the insides of a ramshackle bar, a sparsely decorated apartment, and assorted bare rooms and corridors, real or perhaps imagined. K is, true to form, repeatedly stymied in his efforts, but his frustrating failures and romantic entanglements foster a kind of cramped decadence.

Orson Welles, who originally wanted to adapt this novel instead of The Trial, spoke of the magical properties of dreams in regard to his film’s unreality (and called it his “most autobiographical” feature…). Richard and Erdenibulag’s K, which concludes with the music of John Adams, is dreamlike in the sense of depicting a strange experience that goes on well past its apparent lifespan, to the point of disso­lution. Here, acted out, Kafka’s arbitrary predicaments become self-aware melodrama, then finally subside into melancholic desperation. Or, as the film cryptically subtitles one line: “How suicidal happiness can be!”

Sales Agent: Xstream Pictures