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CLASS RELATIONS (KLASSENVERHALLTNISSE)(director/writer: Jean-Marie Straub; screenwriters: Daniele Huillet/from the Franz Kafka novel Amerika; cinematographers: William Lubtchansky/Christophe Pollock/Caroline Champetier; editor: Jean-Marie Straub; cast: Christian Heinisch (Karl Roßmann), Nazzareno Bianconi (Giacomo), Mario Adorf (Uncle), Klaus Traube (The Captain), Anna Schnell (Line), Gérard Semaan(Schubal), Reinald Schnell (Der Heizer), Harun Farocki (Delamarche), Manfred Blank (Robinson), Libgart Schwarz (Therese), Anne Bold (Klara), Laura Betti (Ex-opera singer), Villi Vobel (Pollunder), Andi Engel (The Head Porter), Alfred Edel (The Head Waiter), Kathrin Bold (The Head Cook), Aloys Pompetzki (The Servant), Tilman Heinisch (Green); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: DaniËle Huillet/Jean-Marie Straub; Editions: Filmmuseum-PAL format; 1984-West Germany/France-in German with English subtitles)
Though, at times, seemingly absurd and lacking Kafka’s philosophical punch, the prickly dramatization is inexplicably mesmerizing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The West German husband and wife team of minimalists director and co-writer Jean-Marie Straub (“Moses and Aaron”/”The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach”/”From the Clouds to the Resistance”) and his deceased co-writer wife Daniele Huillet, base their intractable film on Franz Kafka’s unfinished last novel Amerika, published posthumously in 1927. It presents an allegorical United States, that is timeless and not set in any particular place. It follows the couple’s same template when doing their other literary adaptations, as they use the author’s text and blend it into their staunch film-making methods. The result is a first-class though somewhat flawed film about the effects of capitalism on class relations and the cruel nature of the cold outside world. Though, at times, seemingly absurd and lacking Kafka’s philosophical punch, the prickly dramatization is inexplicably mesmerizing. It was financed in Germany and filmed in New York.

The 16-year-old Karl Roßmann (Christian Heinisch) is a bourgeois German, who after he fails in the business world leaves Prague by boat, in steerage class, for America, under the advice of his rich uncle (Mario Adorf). In America he hooks up with two unscrupulous nasty bums, the Frenchman Delamarche (Harun Farocki) and the Irishman Robinson (Manfred Blank), while hitching across the country. After he tries to befriend them he believes they betrayed him by stealing a photo of his parents from his locked suitcase, and he leaves them to get a job as an elevator boy in a hotel. The rigid Karl does not adjust well to American custom and clumsily adheres to his Old World ways, which makes him misunderstood and despised by his intolerant bosses in his many odd jobs. When unfairly canned by the confused head cook (Kathrin Bold), irate hotel head waiter (Alfred Edel) and sadistic head porter (Andi Engel), Karl becomes a servant to a coarse ex-opera singer (Laura Betti). It seems Karl is mistreated by everyone, but he retains his inner goodness and core of beliefs no matter how much he’s abused.

Since Kafka died before completing the novel, the filmmakers decide to let it end just as the novel did with the hero’s fate still undetermined as he arrives in Oklahoma. The film, despite its strange plodding pulse, through its sharp dialogue and unaffected images satisfactorily retains Kafka’s paranoia about the world, distrust of authorities and his pessimism about humanity.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”