The 44th New Directors/New Films rolls into the weekend presenting innovative films to audiences at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. The North American premiere of Darhad Erdenibulag and Emyr ap Richard's K, a new take on Franz Kafka's The Castle, screens Saturday, March 21 and Sunday, March 22. ND/NF continues through March 29.
Darhad Erdenibulag & Emyr ap Richard, China, 2015, 88m
Description: Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle is relocated to present-day Inner Mongolia, and the translation is startlingly seamless. Land surveyor K (Bayin) arrives in a frontier village, and soon discovers that his summons was a clerical error. Taking a job as a school janitor, K seeks an audience with the high-level minister he believes will resolve the situation, but cannot gain access to the castle where the local government is based. Intermittently aided by a barmaid and two hapless minions, K finds his efforts at clarification stymied by local hostility and administrative chaos alike. Produced by Jia Zhang-ke and rendered with great stylistic economy and a delirious sense of illogic, K is the rare literary adaptation that honors the source material even while reinventing it. At once familiar and strange, the film is both specific to its setting and faithful to Kafka in portraying faceless bureaucracy as a timeless and universal frustration. North American Premiere
The second collaboration between Chinese directors Darhad Erdenibulag and Emyr ap Richard and producer Jessica N. Liu, K came with a number of challenges. First, the novel isn't exactly cinematic, as it's mostly made up of seated conversations. With the help of Jia Zhang-ke, however, the filmmakers said they were able to find the emotional core of the movie, which they explained was “K’s relationship to the women in the story, particularly in the character of Frieda.” A major creative choice was to set the story in Inner Mongolia, which reflected the novel’s lack of definite place. “‘Place’ isn’t a character in the work as it would be in another novel. Instead it takes place in an unnamed snowy village in an unnamed country,” they said. “By switching everything to an unnamed Central Asian village, and a language that almost no one would speak, we could level the playing field.”
In addition to concerns relating to the literary adaptation of such a notorious novel, the film also employs a distinctive and striking visual style. Bringing a background in photography, the directors use long takes and natural light to render haunting images of decaying industrial landscapes. Of this choice, they explained, “The settings weren’t supposed to represent a present-day Inner Mongolia. Instead, we were aiming to create a neutral space that would—along with the language—make it difficult for the audience to pinpoint either the exact place or time of the main story, as in the novel.”
Although the exact setting and language is left intentionally vague, K honors the themes of Kafka’s original novel, which anyone can relate to. “I feel like we are all like K,” said Liu. “We are unable to wake up in a dream that has no ending. The film K is like a mirror for us so we can find a way to wake up through the film.”