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Film / Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life

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The perfect marriage of actor and role, really

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic...what?"
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Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life is a 1993 short comic film written and directed by Peter Capaldi.

Franz Kafka (played by Richard E. Grant, twitchy and weird as always) is sitting in his apartment on Christmas Eve, working on the story that will become The Metamorphosis. He is utterly stuck on the first line, unfortunately, unable to decide just what Gregor Samsa should turn into. Worse, he keeps getting interrupted. First, there's Woland, a very creepy knife-sharpener who comes to Kafka's door looking for work, but soon loses his "little friend". Then there is the downstairs Christmas party, where a lot of young ladies in white dresses are dancing and singing and generally acting in just the opposite way of how Kafka acts. Then there's a woman, played by Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey), who shows up at Kafka's door with a delivery: a giant bug costume.

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Despite the title, the film isn't predominantly a spoof of It's a Wonderful Life (just the final stretch shades into that) — and does not feature the trope It's a Wonderful Plot!


Tropes:

  • Art Shift: The various imagine spots for The Metamorphosis are in black and white.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Kafka finally gathers the nerve to scream "SHUUUUUUUUT UUUUUUP!" at the noisy ladies downstairs.
  • Chiaroscuro: Mostly lit in the dark and spooky manner one might expect of a Kafka adaptation, which contrasts well with the absurdist comedy. There's also another contrast when Kafka goes into Cecily's apartment and finds it bright and cheery with a lit-up Christmas tree.
  • The Comically Serious: Kafka throughout. His stiff discomfort when he sees a bunch of happy young women dancing and singing is hilarious. Ditto when the lady from the novelty shop gives him a balloon animal to cheer him up.
    Kafka: I do not like jokes!
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  • Imagine Spot: Several. Kafka imagines his story with Gregor Samsa as a banana, then Gregor Samsa as a kangaroo. He also goes downstairs to the noisy neighbors and tells them to be quiet, only for Miss Cicely to say "This is an imaginary conversation isn't it?" The scene cuts to Kafka outside the noisy party, having not yet knocked. The final scene is this as well, with Gregor-as-cockroach contentedly singing "Oh, Sweet Mystery of Life".
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Kafka, who earlier said to a fly that "You have as much right to exist as I", is overcome with hysterical weeping remorse when he squashes a cockroach—despite the fact that the squashing finally gives him the inspiration to write his story.
  • Mythology Gag: Cecily calls Kafka "Mr. K." This is an allusion to Kafka novel The Trial and its protagonist Josef K.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Woland the weirdo says his pet cockroach is his conscience, and if that weren't obvious enough, he calls the cockroach "Jiminy".
    • The It's a Wonderful Life spoof really only comes in at the end, when all Kafka's friends and neighbors show up and give him jars of bugs and maggots and such, saving him from being killed by Woland (just as George Bailey's neighbors brought him more than enough money to replace the lost bank funds, saving it and keeping him from going to prison), and everybody bursts into a rendition of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing".
  • Writer's Block: Kafka just cannot come up with what Gregor Samsa should transfer into. A banana? A kangaroo? His apartment is littered with balled-up pieces of paper, as Kafka casts away page after page.

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