The Metamorphosis, Directed by Pencho
The Metamorphosis is a film adaptation of the classic short story by Franz Kafka about a salesman who wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed into a hideous insect. This Bulgarian version is faithful to the original, taking the story literally and taking Kafka at his word when it comes to transforming a man into a vermin. The difference between mediums is in this case very significant, as the symbolic nature of Kafka’s story becomes more concrete when it involves actual imagery and the physicality of turning into a beetle before our very eyes. In Pencho’s film adaptation — years in the making — the metamorphosis of Gregor Samsa does not happen metaphorically, but quite literally.
This is a morning like any other, and Gregor must wake up very early in order to catch the first train of the day so that he will be able to arrive at his sales meeting on time with a client in some other city. He awakes without the aid of his alarm, but once he glances at the clock he realises to his horror that he has slept far too long. If he hurries, he might be able to make it to the second train of the morning. Though he will be late regardless, at least he will be able to get there. But he also realises, to his second horror, that his entire body has changed: He isn’t really human anymore. Hoping that this is just a small hitch, some misperception or illness which will soon pass, he attempts to roll himself from off his shelled back to get out of his bed — first to no avail, and then with a thunderous thud to the ground. His family is worried about him, knocking on both the locked doors to his room. From one side, his parents call him, and from the other his sister wails. Soon even Gregor’s manager shows up, having realised that he did not make it to his appointment. He, too, knocks and calls through the door. Gregor calls back, trying to explain himself, but with the opposite result. We understand what he is trying to say, but all his family and his manager hear are the terrible noises of an enormous vermin. The horrified manager flees, while his family still has hope. But everything will change when Gregor finally manages to unlock the door.
The approach of the film is to take Kafka at his word, to implement everything that he describes in detail. Gregor is literally a vermin, and the lines of the characters correspond to the novella. It is a long film for an adaptation of a short story. Time cards dictate the passage of months of time between scenes. Things change according to the classic story, but very slowly. Whereas Kafka’s work is exciting and revolutionary, this film adaptation is tedious and slow, adding little to a story that is certainly more effective as a work of symbolic literature. By taking the story literally, the film removes some of its power of metaphor. Still, the method with which this approach is taken is well-done as far as the costumes and sound effects are concerned: The vermin that is Gregor is vile thanks to the costume and makeup he wears, as well as the disgusting sound effects that mimic the movements and subtle but gross sounds that one would imagine just such a vermin to make. Moments of shock show the horror of Gregor’s family and others at his strange and sudden transformation.
Some of these methods simply don’t work, though, including stop-animation which doesn’t fit with the rest of the work, an attempt at illustrating the movement of time with time cards, and repetitive, monotonous music. The classic story suffers from unconvincing performances, stilted choreography, and melodrama. The film does not develop a storyline using cinematic techniques, following Kafka to the beat without solving the various cinematic problems that arise when this story is put on-screen. ■
Runtime: 29 minutes
Genre: Dramatic Short
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Pencho is a Bulgarian independent filmmaker who has studied Japanese language and culture at Osaka University. The Metamorphosis is his first film, the product of three years’ collaboration and the recipient of the silver medal for best avant-garde film at the Global Independent Film Awards.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: Gregor Samsa’s view out of the keyhole of his locked room in ‘The Metamorphosis’.