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Kino on Video presents
The Castle (Das Schloss) (1997)

"This means that everything is very unclear and insoluble, except that I'll be thrown out."
- K. (Ulrich Mühe)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 10, 2007

Stars: Ulrich Mühe, Susanne Lothar
Other Stars: Frank Giering, Felix Eitner, Nikolaus Paryla, André Eisemann
Director: Michael Haneke

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sensuality)
Run Time: 02h:02m:51s
Release Date: August 21, 2007
UPC: 738329055127
Genre: gangster

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B+ D

DVD Review

Franz Kafka famously requested that all his writings be burned, but his executors declined to do so, instead arranging for their publication. While this decision has been the source of consternation to generations of students perplexed by Kafka's descent into surrealism and nightmarish bureaucracy, it's certainly indisputable that Kafka more than any other writer captured the grim and often ludicrous reality of modern life, with nonsensical rules, petty bureaucrats, and inexplicable personal grudges that buffet people about uncontrollably. One of the finest examples is his unfinished novel Das Schloss, which was faithfully brought to European television in this adaptation by Michael Haneke.

K. (Ulrich Mühe) is a land surveyor who has been summoned to the unnamed title Castle, but the local villagers refuse to believe that he is who he says he is. The superintendent of the village (Nikolaus Paryla) denies any need for a surveyor, though he understands the chain of bureaucratic circumstances that led to K.'s erroneous appointment. The letter of appointment is signed by Klamm, one of the minor officials of the Castle, so K. attempts without success to get an audience with him. Frieda (Susanne Lothar), a barmaid at the inn where Klamm stays, is Klamm's mistress but she immediately falls for K. and she takes him home. Frustrated in attempting to get any surveying done, and saddled with two hopelessly idiotic assistants, Arthur (Frank Giering) and Jeremiah (Felix Eitner), K. grudgingly accepts an appointment as school janitor, a position that is equally useless to the village. Desperately trying to get in contact with the Castle, K. suffers through a series of increasingly degrading experiences, but because he has spent all his money coming to the Castle, he finds himself unable to leave.

Kafka left a number of gaps in the prose narrative, which are represented here by blackouts; they become increasingly frequent as the film progresses, to the point where it is quite choppy and almost composed of brief vignettes surrounded by black. Finally, the movie breaks off mid-sentence, just as does Kafka's fragment. The result will prove nearly as frustrating and unsatisfying as reading the novel, with no resolution and K. seemingly trapped in a peculiar existence that shifts on him from moment to moment. Haneke offers no suggestions as to where Kafka might have gone, merely ending abruptly with a title card. The translation of novel to screen is often quite literal, with music being heard only as an accordion band plays in the tavern, keeping an austere formality to the proceedings and denying one of the cinematic concessions that are routinely made to literary adaptations.

Haneke emphasizes several aspects of Kafka's story to good effect. Obviously, without faceless bureaucrats who thoughtlessly play with the fates of ordinary people, it would hardly be a Kafka work. Klamm is never seen or even heard, other than a brief shot of his carriage pulling away from a distraught K., and even his secretaries are barely glimpsed. The politics of the village, and even moreso the Castle itself, are built entirely around suspicion, prostitution, and informing. As a result, the alliances are constantliy shifting, which makes the heedless and uncomprehending K. particularly vulnerable. But perhaps the most frightening aspect is how easily the villagers have accepted this way of life, and how fast K. begins to become acclimated to the manipulations that it involves. But Kafka isn't all grimness; he has a darkly comic side that is exemplified best here by the two inept assistants, both dependent on K. and treacherous whenever the opportunity presents itself. While they're only in the way and don't know the first thing about surveying (not as if it makes any difference when there is no surveying to be done), K. finds himself unable to reject them completely for quite a while; the result of their dismissal is a dichotomy, as Arthur becomes even more servile and Jeremiah quickly moves in to take Frieda as his own.

Mühe does a fine job of portraying K. as an exhausted man barely able to muster the anger at the system, but periodically lashing out ineffectually whenever the absurdity becomes too much. He rather reminds me of Brazil's Sam Lowry, struggling against a world that is uninterested in anything other than maneuvering for position (not least of all because Mühe rather resembles Jonathan Pryce). Lothar is intriguing as the fickle Frieda, projecting a needy sensuality without being traditionally attractive (a matter commented upon by her chief rival for the barmaid position of honor). Without an ending, however, the movie suffers from an aimlessness that is traceable to Kafka; without knowing where it's going, and thus what really needs to be emphasized, it remains a truncated torso that can at best be intriguing in its possibilities. One of the best sequences in the picture is K.'s interview with the Superintendent (Paryla), who sends his wife and the two assistants on an impossible task of finding a particular paper in a morass of documents, while telling the elaborately nonsensical tale of how K. came to be appointed land surveyor for a village that needs no surveying. Full of obscure references and incidents that emphasize the random haplessness of K.'s position, it's also hilariously comic as the search continues unabated in the background. Comedy and the clumsiness of bureaucracy are beautifully distilled into an essence of Kafka, blending tragedy and ridiculousness in equal parts.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is generally attractive, though it has been given a heavy green tint throughout that increases the fairy-tale aspect of the production. The grain is fairly heavy, but it only becomes distractingly sparkly in a few instances. The picture is a little soft at times, though the detail on closeups is excellent. Although originally presented for PAL television, I was able to spot PAL/NTSC conversion artifacts and ghosting only on occasion and then only through the use of step-frames; most viewers will not be troubled by it at all at normal speed.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Germanno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 audio is almost entirely center-oriented, though the surrounds are occasionally used to good effect, such as in the paper-shuffling sequence in the superintendent's apartment, or the music in the taproom. The sense of cold is made quite palpable in the bitter crunch of snow beneath the characters' feet and the howling of the wind, which makes for an even more depressing milieu. Noise and hiss are very limited, while range is good (though undemanding).

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:05m:04s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: The extras are quite meager. A still gallery offers fourteen shots (in naturalistic color rather than the stylized green of the feature), and a two-page filmography for Haneke. Chaptering is a bit on the thin side.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

This fine and quite close adaptation of Kafka's unfinished novel may prove frustrating, but the transfer is quite good.


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