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Films Boutique Boards Agnieszka Holland’s Kafka Biopic ‘Franz’

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Films Boutique has reunited with “Green Border” director Agnieszka Holland on her Franz Kafka biopic “Franz,” currently in pre-production.

Set to begin principal photography in April in the Czech Republic and Germany — during the centenary of the author’s death — the film has already been acquired for theatrical distribution by Bac Films Distribution (France), X Verleih (Germany), Bioskop (Czech Republic) and Kino Świat (Poland).

Newcomer Idan Weiss will play Kafka, while Jenovefa Bokova limns Kafka’s friend and translator Milena Jesenska with Maria Schrader as his mother. Peter Kurth, Ivan Trojan, Josef Trojan, Katharina Stark, Sebastian Schwarz and Gesa Schermuly round out the cast. Cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk — also behind “Green Border” and Holland’s “Mr. Jones” — will lense the film.

“It’s very exciting to continue the collaboration with Agnieszka and the whole team following the success of ‘Green Border,’” said Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO at Films Boutique, ahead of the film’s bow at the European Film Market. “‘Franz’ will be one of the most exciting European films to come and it clearly has a very strong international appeal. Having the life of one of the most popular and modern writers of the 20th century adapted on screen by a visionary filmmaker, such as Agnieszka, feels like a cinephile dream.”

Recently awarded in Venice for “Green Border,” Holland is no stranger to tackling real-life icons, such as poet Arthur Rimbaud in Leonardo DiCaprio starrer “Total Eclipse” or composer Ludwig van Beethoven in “Copying Beethoven.”

“Franz,” written by Marek Epstein and Holland, will cover the writer’s life as a “kaleidoscopic mosaic,” starting with his birth in 19th century Prague through to his death in Berlin after the close of World War I.

“Kafka was a man of great sensitivity and ill-suited to his time,” she says. “We have a much better chance of understanding him today than his peers had a century ago. He was the soul of the third millennium: a man living mentally largely outside the reality of his body, living in the world of letters as intensely as today’s man is living his life on social networks.

“To understand Kafka, we want to carefully piece together fragments from Kafka’s past and creation to create a mosaic beyond not only his life toward the present, but also to create a comprehensive view of the dramatic world of Kafka’s imagination.”

Kafka, a German-speaking Jewish Bohemian famous for surrealist and nightmarish visions, was behind such enduring works as “The Metamorphosis,” “The Trial” and “The Castle.”

“Franz” is produced by Sarka Cimbalova for Marlene Film Production and co-produced by Czech Anglo Production (Kevan van Thompson, Czech Republic), X Filme Creative Pool (Uwe Schott and Jorgo Narjes, Germany), Metro Films (Marcin Wierzchosławski, Poland), Bac Films (David Grumbach, France), Czech Television, Barrandov Studio and Certikon in association with Films Boutique.

Chairman of the European Film Academy Mike Downey and Daniel Bergmann serve as executive producers.

“The critical and box office success of ‘Green Border’ is driving incredible interest in ‘Franz’ from distributors and funders all over Europe,” notes Cimbalova. “It’s great to bring back the winning production, sales and creative team that brought us both ‘Green Border’ and ‘Charlatan’ in the last years. It is the quality of this intensive collaboration that has helped us to establish the project in the international consciousness and to find interesting foreign partners who have been contacting us nonstop since the project was announced.”

Despite having sparked controversy in its native country, Holland’s previous film has earned $3.5 million in Poland alone and won an Audience Award at IFFR in February. Widely distributed, it opens in France on Feb. 15.

“The global value of brand Kafka is incalculable and invaluable,” adds Downey, calling the writer “one of the very few literary names to enter into common parlance.”

“The Kafka industry is not simply related to Prague and the things that bear his name in a crass, commercial way. People pay for ‘the Kafka experience’. You can see a market penetration of the brand above and beyond many of the recent biopics we have seen, but we must admit that Kafka has maintained his global rock star status for a century now and it shows little sign of waning.”

As Holland tells Variety, “We know everything and nothing about Kafka.”

“There are dozens of detailed biographies, lots of analyses, tons of books about him. And the reasons for his growing importance and his personality remain a mystery. I am trying to put this film together like a scattered jigsaw puzzle.”

She observes: “What I do know is that I very much want to search for him and follow his traces. I also know that I can’t tell his story in a conventional, linear, classical way. Such a narrative would betray the more profound truth about Franz.”

Instead, the filmmaker will look for her protagonist in “shards, riddles, feelings, in a concoction of facts, assumptions and imagination, in his dreams, his literature and his letters.”

“I want to stand next to him in his fierce fight with his father, with the world and the relentless expectations and demands of most of his loved ones, in his longing for love and ordinary, bourgeois life and his fear of it. The sensual dimension of the film is essential to me. Kafka predicted the world’s darkest future, but there was more brightness and humor in Kafka himself than people usually think.”

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