JOSEPH KILIAN (CZECHOSLOVAKIA / 1963)
"Such is the general currency of the concept 'Kafkaesque' that it is frequently also applied to political films which introduce a surreal element to the depiction of political dictatorships. The main ingredient of the societies described in such films is an all powerful and incomprehensible authority which weakens the individual psychologically and physically" (The Cambridge Companion to Kafka). Kafkaesque to its core, the wryly subversive and paradoxical Joseph Kilian (Postava k podpírání, which translates as "a figure to support") relates the predicament of an solitary individual in Prague vainly searching for the eponymous man.
Initially seen emerging from a highly symbolic display of life's circularity (predominantly set to the ominous sound of marching soldiers), our protagonist Jan Herold (Karel Vasicek) eventually ends up in front of a cat-rental shop (one quite possibly owned by the state). He impulsively walks in and rents a tomcat for the day. But when he goes back to return the feline, the shop is nowhere to be found. Kafkaesque absurdities ensue as in an attempt to avoid the possibly significant late fees, Jan visits numerous governmental bureaus for assistance, and discovers that a certain Mr. Kilian just might be running one of them.
Co-directed by Pavel Jurácek (1935-1989) and Jan Schmidt (who also collaborated on the screenplay and went on to work together on the apocalyptic The End of August at the Hotel Ozone ), the film is a highly satirical account of totalitarian bureaucracy. More specifically, it imaginatively allegorizes the period of Stalinist "cult of personality." Along with being thematically bold and inventive, it is formally so as well: the filmmakers only heighten the absurdity of the whole affair by their intermittent employment of rapid montage and optical effects -- the film is shot by the great Jan Curík (The Gleiwitz Case , Valerie and Her Week of Wonders ).
Jurácek may not be a well-known figure of the Czechoslovak New Wave, but his contributions cannot be ignored. A dramaturgy graduate of the Prague Film School (FAMU), he assisted Vera Chytilová on both Ceiling (1962) and Daisies (1966) and wrote screenplays for a number of other key efforts of the movement. Some might be surprised to learn that Joseph Kilian did not face any roadblocks in its homeland (which was not the case with one of Jurácek's later efforts; he left for W. Germany in 1978). The film went on to play at the Cannes (Critics' Week) and New York Film Festivals in 1964. And, by the way, it is only about 38 minutes long.