Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle HuilletWest Germany / France130 minutes1983B&WGerman
Straub-Huillet's hypnotic, provocative, and often surprisingly funny adaptation of Franz Kafka's first novel Amerika fuses the writer's dreamlike vision with a Marxist analysis of master-servant relations.
A high point of Straub-Huillet's cinema, this adaptation of Kafka's first novel Amerika fuses the writer's dreamlike vision with a Marxist analysis of master-servant relations; the result is hypnotic, provocative, and often surprisingly funny. Scrupulously drawing all of its dialogue directly from the novel, Class Relations recounts the fate of young German immigrant Karl Rossman, who accepts his nouveau riche uncle's invitation to move to New York (Hamburg stands in for Manhattan, though the Statue of Liberty makes an iconic appearance), where he encounters an increasingly strange America of unwarranted optimism and quickness to assign guilt. Kafka's working title for the novel was The Man Who Disappeared, and if Karl doesn't exactly vanish in the New World, he maintains an inexpressive dignity in the face of its many humiliations, before finally setting out for Oklahoma and what is certain to be more misadventure. Performed with Bressonian precision, and featuring a supporting cast that is a cinephilic treasure trove (Harun Farocki, Laura Betti, Thom Andersen!), Class Relations is "a great film — which is to say, a film like any other, only greater.... See it!" (Gilbert Adair, Sight & Sound).