Agnieszka Holland to direct new biopic about famed Prague writer Franz Kafka

The life of the Prague-based surrealist writer who died at age 40 will be shown as a mosaic of events.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 18.01.2022 15:10:00 (updated on 18.01.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

 A new biopic about Czech-German-Jewish surrealist author Franz Kafka is in the works. Polish director Agnieszka Holland will present the concept behind the film, so far simply titled “Kafka,” at the co-production market at the Berlinale film festival.

Berlinale’s co-production market is a forum for filmmakers to present their planned projects so that more investors can get involved before filming starts. The festival this year will be held Feb. 12–16 in an online edition.

“Kafka will be a dazzling kaleidoscopic mosaic of a film that dramatizes the famous writer’s life and imagination in a series of standalone vignettes that span Kafka’s life from his birth in pre-war Prague, to his tragic death in 1924 … to scenes from the future he [envisioned],” the Czech Film Center said.

Kafka suffered from tuberculosis for most of his adult life and died at the age of 40 at a sanatorium just outside Vienna. Most of Kafka’s best-known works such as “The Trial” and “The Castle” were published posthumously. All of his known writing save for some letters is in the German language.

He did not achieve widespread fame until after World War II. Kafka never made a living from his writing, though he did publish some stories. His main employment was as a clerk at insurance companies where he investigated claims and wrote reports.

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He grew up near Prague’s Old Town Square, and one of the corners where he lived is now called náměstí Franze Kafky. His father ran a men’s fashion shop in Kinský Palace in Old Town Square, now part of the National Gallery. He also lived at a small house in Prague Castle’s Golden Lane for a while, among several other locales. He is buried at the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague, near the Želivského metro and tram stop.

Bust of Franz Kafka at náměstí Franze Kafky. Photo: Raymond Johnston.
Bust of Franz Kafka at náměstí Franze Kafky. Photo: Raymond Johnston.

Holland’s Kafka biopic will be a Czech-Irish co-production, as was her previous film “Charlatan” (Šarlatán), about the controversial alternative medicine practitioner Jan Mikolášek.

Šárka Cimbalová of Prague's Marlene Film Production will be the main producer, and Sam Taylor of Irish Film and Music Entertainment will be a co-producer. Both collaborated on “Charlatan” as well. Potential cast members for “Kafka” have not yet been announced.

“Charlatan,” Holland's first Czech feature film, was presented at the Berlinale co-production market in 2017. After the film was made, it had its premiere at the 2020 Berlinale. It was nominated for a European Film Award and won five Czech Lions, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Holland studied filmmaking at Prague’s FAMU, and was arrested for her support of the dissident movement after the 1968 invasion. After graduating in 1971, she returned to Poland but eventually made her way to France. Her best-known film “Europa, Europa” is a 1990 film biopic of Solomon Perel, a Jewish boy who masqueraded as a Nazi to escape the Holocaust. It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

She also directed the HBO miniseries “Burning Bush,” about Jan Palach, a Czech student who set himself on fire to protest the Czechoslovak government’s complacency after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion.

Kafka’s life has been told on film before. Steven Soderbergh’s 1991 thriller “Kafka” mixed parts of the author’s real life with scenes of his fiction. It starred Jeremy Irons in the title role. The film, partly shot on Prague locations, earned mixed reviews and was a box office failure. A re-edited version of the film, titled “Mr. Kneff,” was shown at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

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