• CNAP Award  
  • GNCR Award


Roee Rosen

Roee Rosen’s take on The Metamorphosis delivers Kafka in explosive form. We remember his Dust Channel (FID 2016), which combined Buñuel’s Andalusian Dog with Dyson hoovers in a gritty political tale about the Israeli occupation. This Kafka is “aimed at kids” , but “what is a kid?” we hear as a ritornellos: it’s a musical comedy composed like an episodic television programme, complete with commercial breaks. The storyteller and his listener, a ‘little girl’ and ‘model child’, lead us into a vibrant world. The filmmaker multiplies the layers of the story, twists and peppers them with unpredictable tangents. So, in addition to the metamorphosis of Gregor Samsa depicted through his own animated gouaches, Rosen telescopes Sacher Masoch, among other figures, and, as a core element, a law regarding Palestinian children. This was a key element in his previous film, Explaining the law to Kwame (FID 2021), intended originally for this Kafka. It emerges unexpectedly, both like its heart and a graft. Layer upon layer, Rosen crafts a fable of uncomfortable strangeness, like the faces inserted into the set, the discordant timbre of Igor Krutogolov’s orchestra of dissonant toys and the extraordinarily versatile acting of Hani Furstenberg. The tangents act like a plethora of additional insights, summoning off-camera politics which seem to pervade and contaminate everything. Politics and eroticism, childhood and the law – Roee Rosen leads us into a world full of ambiguities, snares and contradictions.

(Nicolas Feodoroff) Roee Rosen

Interview with Roee Rosen

Kafka for Kids is a free adaptation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which you thought of several years ago. What is the origin of this long-term project? Why should little children be interested in this work by Kafka, which is intended for adults, adults whom you address here as little children?

The inception of the film’s idea is actually FID-related: in 2008 I was premiering here The Confessions of Roee Rosen, and much to my surprise the Marseille audience kept asking about the influence of Kafka which is definitely there, but hidden, I thought. At the time I was thinking in terms of productive forms of self-betrayal, and it dawned on me that a funny and painful way to betray my veneration of Kafka was through abusive love: making him fit for toddlers. The betrayal also had to do with details, such as depicting the vermin, Gregor Samsa, against Kafka’s explicit and justified prohibition (an abuse many people, of course, perform without giving it a second thought). I initially gave up on the project, feeling I was at a dead end, but after a few years began a second, very long process during which the thing evolved and transformed. Childhood as a trope as well as motifs related to children literature are offset in the tale, and the notion of childhood itself became a profound, and quite emotional, question.

You choose to use the rhetoric of a TV series, very close to children’s TV programs. And, decisively, the children are played by adults, including the little girl to whom the story is addressed, played by an amazing Hani Furstenberg, who reappears later as a legal expert. Can you tell us more about these choices?

I often use as an entry point a preexisting format or genre, and often ones that seem minor, devalued or clichéd, such as children TV, but the magical story house in the film has not only productively vulgar relatives but also some wonderful precedents, from PeeWee Herman to the Teletubbies. The ploy of commercial TV also allows for ad breaks, which means crucial interruptions (someone thought of them as akin to situationist dérive), a growing sense of disorientation (for example, trailers for future episodes are shown, but the cast acts upon those events as if they’re current), and finally, a full-fledged transformation. As for casting: everyone auditioned except for Hani, for whom the role was written specifically. I dreamed of working with her again ever since we did Hilarious, a dysfunctional standup monologue she performed breathtakingly (and the legal expert monologue is in fact structured like a musical counterpoint to that earlier monologue).

The musical part is very important, as in many of your films, and notably in The Dust Channel (FID 2016). How did the collaboration with Igor Krutogolov’s Toy Orchestra appear in the project? Its necessity?

I find that often music is used in a reductively utilitarian way (helping us feel “correctly” through codified means), or as ambience (here there’s a great history, from Satie to Eno, and Lynch, whose approach to sound is visionary, but whose influence became almost a formula in many films wherein drone is meant to convey mystery, irony, weirdness etc.). Without theorizing or making big claims, I try to approach music as a substantial, constitutive element, and the history and diversity of music can yield historical and cultural resonance without necessarily asserting them directly. The Dust Channel was also a collaboration with Igor Krutogolov, an absurd operetta in which the stylistic echoes suggest both early 20th century music and Baroque chamber and vocal music to further enrich its juxtaposition of things that do not seem to belong together – playful machine erotics with xenophobic policies, a biography of a commodity with surrealist breed of animism. Kafka, on the other hand, is a full-fledged musical, where the influences range from children’s songs to the principle model of Weill and Brecht (but also a recurring, crucial theme in Kafka which this interview is too short to tackle: the tension between what we recognize as music and speech, and between incomprehensible noise). In both cases Igor is a superb and unique collaborator. It was he who suggested the orchestra for this film which is indeed a brilliant thought that influenced anything from the structure of space to musical forms (I was initially set on more of a choral direction as I knew I wanted all actors to be good singers). Igor is an autodidact and hard to pinpoint, but he has a strong punk ethos. I was deeply moved by his willingness and ability to engage a somewhat softer and more seductive singing structure which for me had a moving alchemy with the lyrics and a rather strong emotional import.

In the set, which you designed and painted, many characters are inlaid. Can we consider them as a kind of choir, as in Greek tragedy?

Absolutely: I thought of a Greek choir converging with a musical choir, with each member being both a character and an object (Mr Chair, Ms. Lamp etc), and with an additional doubling stemming from the fact that they dub the characters in the Samsa story (which is rendered in animation). It is a kind of an animistic sphere where there is an excess of life and presences.

How did the sequence with the legal expert, dealing with the case of a Palestinian kid, existing also as an autonomous film Explaining the Law to Kwame (FID 2020), come up in the context of this film? Could one consider it as its very core?

I knew that I wanted the film to go through a metamorphosis, and I knew that I will go from the world of Gregor Samsa to a topical and political reality, but the issue of Israel’s military law treatment of the Palestinian child only asserted itself when I was already deep into the script. In other words, it was not planned in advance. The event with which the lecture begins, a Twelve year old girl being sentenced to jail and sent to an adult prison happened while I was writing and could not be ignored, begging the question: what is a child; a question which is so central in the film had suddenly gained a very concrete and different angle. I then began both research and held a meeting with legal activists and theorists, and with lawyers working in the occupied territories, initially considering a straightforward documentary panel discussion, but I quickly realized that I had to fictionalize my legal experts if there was any experiential complexity and moral ambivalence to pursue.

There are different emotional shifts in the film, and somehow the film is, let’s say, uncomfortable for the viewers. An important aspect for you?

On one level, both emotional shifts, from cathartic elation to horror and sadness, and a sense of discomfort make sense when one thinks of The Metamorphosis. It is also a significant meter for me as I work on a new piece, to position myself – and the viewer – on shifting grounds, insecure, which can indeed be disconcerting. But there’s a layer of seduction, beauty and engagement that prevents the experience from being exasperating or morbid; at least that’s the hope.

Interview by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • CNAP Award  
  • GNCR Award

Technical sheet

Israël / 2022 / Colour / 111’ — FIDLab 2017

Original version : english, hebrew
Subtitles : english
Script : Roee Rosen
Photography : Avner Shahaf
Editing : Max Lomberg
Music : Igor Krutogolov
Sound : Nir Rachmin
Casting : Hani Furstenberg, Jeff Francis, Eli Gorenstein

Production : Roee Rosen, Max Lomberg.

Filmography :
Marseille Jamilla, 2020
Explaining the Law to Kwame, 2020
The Dust Channel, 2016
The Buried Alive Videos, 2013
Tse (Out), 2010
Hilarious, 2010
Gagging During Confession: Names and Arms, 2008
The Confessions of Roee Rosen, 2008
Confessions Coming Soon, 2007
I Was Called Kuny-Lemel, 2007.
Two Women and A Man, 2005
Editor: The Zionist Ventriloquist, A Compilation of Video Hits, 2004
Dr Cross, A Dialogue, 1994.