‘Franz’: Agniezska Holland’s Kafka biopic kicks off Prague shoot

Following lengthy pre-production work that began in late 2023, Franz officially kicks off its Prague shoot this month. The Franz Kafka biopic from director Agnieszka Holland is filming this month on location in Prague’s city center in areas of Malá Strana and Old Town near near Kafka’s original place of birth, according to documentation filed with the City of Prague 1.

Later this month, Franz is slated to shoot on the Malá Strana side of Charles Bridge, as well as areas in Prague’s Jewish Quarter Josefov. Production will also take place at Loretánské náměstí by Prague Castle and Konviktská street in Old Town.

Prague production on Franz will run through the end of May. In addition to Prague, the film is also slated to shoot on location in Germany. The production is taking place just ahead of the centenary of the death of Franz Kafka, who passed away on June 3, 1924. Events in Prague throughout 2024 are celebrating 100 years since the author’s death.

Written by director Holland and Marek Epstein, who previously collaborated on the Czech Oscar submission Charlatan, Franz tells the story of one of the world’s most iconic writers as a “kaleidoscopic mosaic” from his birth in late-19th century Prague to his death in Berlin in 1924. The feature is produced by Marlene Film Production with Czech Anglo Productions on board as co-producer.

According to casting information published in Variety, German-Jewish actor Idan Weiss, making his feature debut, will star in Franz as Kafka after an extensive casting call in 2023. Maria Schrader, who directed Netflix’s Unorthodox and the Harvey Weinstein-New York Times drama She Said, will play Kafka’s mother. (4/12 Update: According to the latest information from producers, Maria Schrader is not involved with the project.)

Czech actress Jenovéfa Boková stars as journalist Milena Jesenská, Kafka’s one-time muse and the subject of his published Letters to Milena, and also the first to translate his work from German into Czech. Ivan Trojan, Josef Trojan, Peter Kurth, Katharina Stark, Sebastian Schwarz and Gesa Schermuly also star in Franz in unspecified roles.

Director Holland’s previous film Green Border won a Special Jury Prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival. She was nominated for an Oscar for her script to 1990’s Europa Europa, and later directed films such as Total Eclipse, with Leonardo DiCaprio, and Copying Beethoven, starring Ed Harris.

A graduate of Prague’s FAMU film school, Holland has close ties with the Czech Republic, and directed the HBO miniseries Burning Bush, about the aftermath of student Jan Palach’s 1969 self-immolation. She’s also a longtime fan of Kafka, who was perhaps Prague’s most famous resident.

“Kafka has been the most important writer to me — together with Chekhov — since I was young,” director Holland told Czech Film Magazine in 2022. “When I arrived in Prague, I perceived the city through his literature and life. I saw Kafka everywhere and almost identified with his shy nature, ambivalent Judaism, and contradictions.

“Communist Czechoslovakia slowly and timidly began to return to his work in the mid-1960s, but then, during normalization, his legacy was forgotten — until Kafka became a commercial tourist attraction with all sorts of strange monuments to him.”

“The fate of his books, his embarrassing loves, the relationship with his father, his failed engagements, his office work and tuberculosis — these are well documented in his diaries, letters, and many biographies. We know everything. But the secret of his fate and the influence his literature has on the world has never been fully revealed.”

Franz has already been acquired for theatrical release in European territories including France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland. A release date has not been set, but post-production would need to be quick for it coincide with Kafka’s death anniversary. A 2025 release might be more reasonable.

Lead photo: promotional artwork for Franz courtesy Marlene Film Production.

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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