INTERVIEW – Explaining the Law to Kwame

Explaining the law to Kwame is part of a work-in-progress feature length film, which is meant to be an adaptation of Kafka’s famous Metamorphosis. Could you tell us a bit about that project?

A: Kafka for Kids is a musical comedy purporting to be the pilot episode for a TV series which promises to make Kafka’s tales fit for toddlers. It is a perverse, almost sacrilegious premise towards this venerated author, but of course it is also emotionally invested in Kafka, so it is a project of violent love and laughter. While Gregor Samsa’s tale is conveyed through animation, much of the action is live and takes place in the magical story house, and the ad breaks become gradually longer and more disturbing. They also echo the juxtaposition of the trope of childhood on the one hand and on the other notions and constructs of the law, which are of course so central to Kafka on many levels. With the Kwame monologue one can say that the film undergoes its own genre metamorphoses.

It seems though this film is a whole piece, autonomous, in itself. How did you decide to have this chapter (if it’s one)? Aside or within Kafka’s tale?

A: I have spent the last four years working on the Kafka project, particularly its aesthetics which are quite meticulous, almost similar to the way in which when one paints one accounts for every part of the painting’s surface. The Kwame monologue presented here, on the other hand, was almost the opposite: a hit and run affair, literally realized with no budget, with makeshift means and very little time. I was invited to partake in an exhibition on art and law, and used the opportunity to stage the monologue as part of a live event that also included actual experts on the military law, such as Gaby Lasky, a lawyer who regularly represents Palestinian children, and Itamar Mann, a theorist specializing in human rights, etc. I like the result very much, but it really has a very different sensibility than the feature (even the language is not the same, as Kafka for Kids is in English). This became very clear when we finally shot the film itself, just before the Corona crisis. But I still loved this rather rough version, and decided to let it become autonomous.

The cast: once again, after HILARIOUS (2010), you cast Hani Furstenberg: could you tell us about this choice?

A: For me Hani is a great artist, with an extraordinary understanding of what I set out to do with my texts, and ever since she performed Hilarious I knew I would write another role especially for her. In Kafka for Kids she plays a double role — both the legal expert, Ada Biniamini, and also one of the two lead-roles: the nameless child to whom the story is being read. In many ways this monologue is structured as a counterpoint to Hilarious: while the latter is a performative collapse in a comic mode, with Hani as a dysfunctional stand-up comedian, here she performs a collapse in a dramatic-documentary mode. The two monologues even share several bodily gestures, a humming of a song, they are roughly the same length, and of course in both the entire affair is carried by a single performer.

How did you write this monologue: adding historical and legal facts to this slow shift of inner fantastic considerations? How about the interpretation: gestures, leaving the talking place to the ground…

A: The trial of D., which is described in the beginning of the lecture, happened as I was writing the Kafka script, and it dawned on me that certain questions the script had raised are posited starkly by the legal and military reality of the occupation. My first step was to create a think tank of legal activists and thinkers thinking, at that point, that these concrete legal issues will be delivered in a straightforward documentary style by some of them. They were a fantastic group but I immediately realized I have to invent my own legal expert, both because I needed a very particular and condensed version of the legal intricacies. But, more importantly, to create an emotionally complex, self-reflexive and ambivalent ground, which makes life a bit more difficult to both myself and the viewer, this fictive legal expert had to be created. As for the staging, as I mentioned before, to a great extent it uses Hilarious as a blue-print (where Hani also finds herself on the ground, albeit for very different reasons). The roaming of the speaker is also connected to temporal transposition between past, present and future, and to identity transpositions, but here we are already deep in spoiler territory.

Since childhood and its legal aspects in Israel today is at stake here, can you comment on the actual situation nowadays?

A: The film is, in part, my attempt to comment on the actual present situation.