7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Acting 4, Narrative Engagement 2,
This review is from: The Castle [DVD] (DVD)
Franz Kafka's work must be some of the most difficult material to transpose successfully to the cinema screen and, although Michael Haneke makes a reasonable fist of it with this 1997 film of Kafka's unfinished novel of the same name, one can't help feeling that this initial assertion is correct. Whilst there are a number of positive points about Haneke's film, The Castle's central story concerning a man's (named K, the Land Surveyor) quest to gain access to the mysterious castle for (largely) unexplained reasons, does not (for this viewer, at least) generate sufficient interest or engagement to sustain what is a two-hour film.
Having said this, given the (deliberately) mundane nature of most of the film's dialogue, Haneke has coaxed a series of excellent acting performances from his cast (a number of whom had also appeared in his Funny Games, released in the same year). As K, Ulrich Muhe is again superb, this time as the frustrated and duplicitous K, whose objective (obsession, even) of gaining access to the castle (via the illusive Chief, Klamm) is sufficiently unwavering to lead to K seeking favours and liaisons with all and sundry in the remote, snow-bound village that is The Castle's setting. His obsession even leads to him compromising his newly established relationship with town barmaid, the well-meaning and subservient Frieda, whose portrayal by Susanne Lothar is brilliant (and is of comparable quality to her turn as the persecuted wife, Anna, in Funny Games).
Of course, the 'message' behind The Castle, metaphorically depicted in K's obsession, may be any one (or combination) of frustration with the established political order, the impenetrability of society's bureaucracies or even an individual's search for personal salvation, and whilst such themes are well communicated by the barriers and bizarrely officious characters against which K comes up at every turn, the nature of such turgid officialdom is not inherently cinematic and one finds one's attention drifting somewhat during the frequently lengthy diatribes (actually brilliantly reflected during the scene towards the end of the film where K receives just such a diatribe from Klamm's secretary, Burgel, and finds himself nodding off). Indeed, Haneke attempts periodically (and largely successfully) to alleviate any boredom by including some nice moments of dark humour featuring K's two mysterious 'assistants' in relation to whom K, on noticing their visual similarity, quips (in my favourite line in the film), 'I shall treat you as a single person and call you both Arthur'.
If one was being (particularly) harsh on Haneke, one could also suggest that being an unfinished novel The Castle provides Haneke with the ideal opportunity to include another of his trademark enigmatic endings - however, sadly, I have to admit I was not overly disappointed (though maybe a little surprised) when Haneke cuts off one of his film's characters (almost) mid-sentence to reveal a blank screen, signifying the end of his film.