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The Trial (1962)
Josef K wakes up in the morning and finds the police in his room. They tell him that he is on trial but nobody tells him what he is accused of. In order to find out about the reason of this accusation and to protest his innocence, he tries to look behind the facade of the judicial system. But since this remains fruitless, there seems to be no chance for him to escape from this Kafkaesque nightmare.
Anthony Perkins ... Josef K.
Jeanne Moreau ... Marika Burstner
Romy Schneider ... Leni
Elsa Martinelli ... Hilda
Suzanne Flon ... Miss Pittl
Orson Welles ... Albert Hastler (The Advocate)
Akim Tamiroff ... Bloch
Madeleine Robinson ... Mrs. Grubach
Arnoldo Foà ... Inspector A
Fernand Ledoux ... Chief Clerk of the Law Court
Michael Lonsdale ... Priest
Like most people, I've read Kafka. "The Trial" was one of the books I read for credit during high-school. I always thought it was a good book that did a great job depicting a reality based around a state of mind. While I liked the book and held it in high esteem compared to other literature I'd read, it couldn't prepare me for the incredible experience of Orson Welles's great adaptation "The Trial" ("Le Proces"). The man who once delivered the best movie ever made (in America) to a major studio made this masterpiece on almost no money and limited resources in two European countries with no sets.
Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins turns in a convincing performance as Joseph K. K awakes one morning to find the police in his apartment arresting him without taking him into custody or telling him what he's charged with. People come and go from the room with a creepy, unnatural ere that makes it all seem less real. Every aspect of K's life becomes warped as he realizes everyone expects him to behave differently but he isn't sure how and his attempts to correct himself get him deeper into trouble. He's lead to a secret meeting that turns out to be his hearing which turns out to be a mockery. K gets a lawyer, played by Welles himself (who has one of the best entrances in screen history here), but he turns out to more of a villain than a deliverance. Every woman K meets is attracted to him, presumably because he's accused. Our hero is a marked man who can't understand the game and is appalled by the rules. As K ventures deeper into the secrets of the mysterious legal system he becomes more and more convinced that he is doomed and for no reason at all. The movie builds to an astounding climax that fits the dream tone perfectly and surpasses any expectations.
"The Trial" is set in an unnamed country in a city composed of decaying industrial buildings, old factories, shady tenements, and empty streets. Welles filmed much of this in an abandoned train station in Paris and the ad-hoc location proves to be the perfect psychological landscape. Welles took Kafka's paranoia over the persecution of Jews and updated it to a post-war setting where the law is the enemy of every man, or as in this case, the everyman. This is no mere portrait of fascism or communism, but a condemnation of abuses of the law everywhere. The landscape is highly engaging, and some modern buildings are thrown in the mix, perhaps to remind the viewer that this could happen here in America, too. "The Trial" is one of the most memorable settings in screen history and Welles gives us a taste of its terrors from lofty heights to claustrophobic depths.
Welles always said that the dialogue was priority number one, and here every scrap of it is memorable. In spite of the spectacular lines, the visual style is awe inspiring and it's a bit shocking to consider that this was the end of production that Welles never planned. The look is very film noir, like a 50s detective picture, but darker, almost to the point of being horror. This movie runs on fear, but maintains dramatic pathos and a sense of humor that help it rise above other films with that intention. People call Welles's films "style over substance", but if you watch the opening bedroom scene, you'll agree that this film kept them in harmony.
Akim Tamiroff ("Ocean's 11") and Romy Schneider ("What's New Pussycat") shine in supporting roles as the lawyers subordinates, slaves who play inside the rules to save themselves. They help to flesh his out as not merely an adaptation of Kafka's work, but an expanded drama, brought to life with the skill of Shakespeare and a lens worthy of Hitchcock. This is more than a parable, it's a human drama that bathes in pure expressions of fear and depression.
"The Trial" is easily the best film of its year if not of that decade. It should be seen by fans of good film and by audiences in general "because tomorrow, or someday soon, it could happen to you!"
This is probably Welles' most complete masterpiece since CITIZEN KANE. Not that it's better than AMBERSONS or TOUCH OF EVIL, but there's a wholeness, a freedom from interference, a focusing of vision that's complete. It's also a relief to be able (for once)to enjoy a Welles performance from this period, rather than laughing with him at its crass silliness. Akim Tamiroff is (as ever) extraordinary, while Anthony Perkins captures the mixture of nervousness and arrogance central to Welles' K.
THE TRIAL is also a textbook lesson in how to film a classic text. While cinema thrives on the second-rate, transcending and enriching banality, it tends to founder when it appropriates the Great Works, due in part to the incompatibility of forms, but mostly because of pointless reverence. Why bother being completely faithful to, say, Howard's End, when we can read the book. Surely the only reasons to film a classic are to a)make it adaptable to film form; b)make it relevant to our age; or c)make it relevant to the director's sensibility.
Welles, on one level, is certainly faithful to Kafka's vision. We get a nightmare depiction of bureaucracy gone mad, of the increasing, unidentifiable totalitarianism of modern life, of the persecution of the individual, of the impossibility of rebellion and alternatives. The sense of labyrinth and nightmare, and a desolate world abandoned by God, is chillingly evoked in the film's astonishing visual framework, the hallucinatory set-pieces, the disorientating comedy, the bewildering logic. The knowledge that K.'s workplace was filmed in a disused railway station only adds to the film's complexity - this is a society cut off from other people, ideas, civilisations; one where there is no coming or going, no escape.
And yet Welles subverts all this. By removing Kafka's ambiguity, he makes the work more ambiguous. Unlike the book, Welles draws attention to the fact that this is a nightmare. K. begins the film getting dressed, and ends it stripping, the reverse process of going to sleep (i.e. to move plausibly back from the dream world to reality, K. has to return to the state that led to dream, unclothed in bed).
The suggestion that his adventures are a dream draws attention to the film's main theme - the dangers of solipsism. K. is a paranoid - because he sees the world only from his point of view, he feels that everyone is out to get him. His selfishness is subtly hinted at throughout the film, by his stated profession not to get involved with anything, to avoid problems, to avoid others' problems, to keep himself to himself, and get on. Of course, this means that no-one will help him, as he finds out throughout the film. And if everybody is indifferent to their neighbour, than no wonder people are burned in death camps. Wasn't that the excuse of 'ordinary' Germans after the war? 'We knew nothing about it'.
That's why well-fed K. with his privileged job, is greeted by a gaunt group of camp victims. Welles has to remould The Trial in the knowledge of the Final Solution. This is accomplished by parodying K.'s us vs. them outlook,k with a complex doubling pattern - private scenes bursting into mass activity; Dreyeresque austerity alternating with Wellesian baroque; a dynamic jazz score merging into Albinoni's tragic, apocalyptic, funereal Adagio.
Both readings aren't exclusive: they play off each other. Creating an appropriately Kafkaesque spiral of terror, the climactic scene - a classic Wellesian stand-off between K. and the Advocate (seemingly on his side, but really a playful collaborator), completes the dissolution of the individual. They are shown to be indistinguishable, mere shadows of men. I do not say that we fail to sympathise with K. - his light IS harrowing, but though his closing laugh can be interpreted as an admission of the Absurdity of the universe, it's a world made in his image.
When asked on the IMDb poll to enter the name of my favorite movie, I at first thought it an impossible task. Once this one entered my mind, though, the contest was over.
The lifetime masterpiece of a master of filmmaking, "The Trial" is Orson Welles's finest film, even surpassing "Touch of Evil." Somber, brooding, sometimes even claustrophobic, "The Trial" is a surrealistic safari through the worlds of law, employment and interpersonal relationships.
The melancholy strains of the artistically deployed Adagio by Albinoni underscore the mood of the film, shot mostly at twilight or indoors by night in a tangle of nightmarish sets that extend to infinity. Even scenes shot in broad daylight seem cold and devoid of nourishment in this cosmos of interminable, infinitesimal complexity which utterly lacks a heart.
Anthony Perkins (Joseph K.) is mass of contradictions, at once sympathetic, boyish, paranoid, angry, declamatory and most of all surpassingly frustrated by the futility of attempting to deal with a society that both demands mechanistic perfection of him and at the same time exhibits a persistent apathy toward his continued existence as well as a bureaucratic attempt to destroy it.
He seems inadvertently to hurt everyone with whom he comes in contact, ostensibly the cause of people getting thrown out of their dwellings, schools, jobs, marriages and other situations, all due to his benign actions which in any sane world would be completely unconnected with the tragedies they somehow appear to create. But in the Kafka/Welles society, they just lead to blame and further accusations. In his helplessness, his innocence and his utter bafflement, Perkins is thoroughly disarming.
Welles is positively diabolical as The Advocate, who, like everyone else connected with the Court, is not of any assistance or support to the accused. Rather, he seems to exist only to hurl vague accusations at Joseph K. - which the poor man is somehow expected to understand beforehand and even think are justified - and to exact payment for same.
Romy Schneider is outstanding as The Advocate's cook/housekeeper/nursemaid/concubine, the only person in the story who shows Joseph K. any genuine affection, odd though the form it takes may be. Other unforgettable and universally strange characters populate this odyssey into oblivion, such as the club-footed landlady doggedly dragging a trunk along an empty railroad track into the fading twilight while politely trying to refrain from telling Joseph K. how lowly she regards him.
The movie is fairly divergent from the book, which it inspired me to read. For example, the movie comes to a conclusion, while the unfinished book does not. In most ways, though, I find the movie more memorable, haunting and downright disturbing. Its skillfully crafted mesh of images and symbols which resonate at a level deeper than the conscious will find themselves recurring to the viewer unbidden for years to come.