A film by Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet
1983, 130 minutes
No. 134

Straub-Huillet’s brilliant distillation of Franz Kafka’s incomplete first novel Amerika is perhaps the most authentically German treatment of Kafka ever made.

An ecstatic and haunted fever dream of the United States — the place where Kafka longed to disappear, if only in his imagination — Amerika is told from the perspective of a young German immigrant who encounters a strange new world, with its violent lies and quixotic optimism, like a modern-day Parsifal.

Straub and Huillet took pains to render the German mannerisms and dialect of Kafka’s novel faithfully, and shot their film almost entirely in the port city of Hamburg. But their depiction of injustice and exploitation transcends historical specificity; as Straub said in 1984, “Kafka, for us, is the only major poet of industrial civilization, I mean, a civilization where people depend on their work to survive.”

Official Selection, New York Film Festival

"The filmmaking techniques employed in Class Relations further draw it out of the realm of straight adaptation or political parable. Their use of long takes, static camera work, and non-professional actors gives the film an austere and subtle power similar to the work of Robert Bresson... Despite its quiet pacing, the film’s intensity lends it incredible momentum, engaging the viewer from start to finish." - The Brooklyn Rail

"[It's] among their most accessible and 'entertaining' works. I put quotes around that word because these filmmakers have stood in career-long opposition to the diversion and distraction that are endemic in commercial cinema; but even abstruse works like History Lessons, not to mention the visually magnificent Sicilia! and the sonically sensuous Moses and Aaron, are entertaining if having your intellect roused and your senses stimulated is your idea of a good time, as it is for me." - Cineaste Magazine