Directed by Orson Welles and starring a magnificent Anthony Perkins, The Trial is a superlative interpretation of Der Prozess by Franz Kafka. The film was released in 1962. Welles wrote the screenplay as well as directing the film, which shows in its unique style, perspective and voice. The Trial tells the story of Joseph K, accused of something – bit we do not know what – and is subjected to a trial – but the court processes are not clear. It is a masterful interpretation of the novel and captures all its haunting nightmarish disquiet. In terms of further context, Sight and Sound voted Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time in their 1962 annual review, likely giving Welles a well needed boost of confidence in the making of this film.
The blackest of Welles’ comedies, an apocalyptic version of Kafka that renders the grisly farce of K’s labyrinthine entrapment in the mechanisms of guilt and responsibility as the most fragmented of expressionist films noirs. Perkins’ twitchy ‘defendant’ shifts haplessly through the discrete dark spaces of Welles’ ad hoc locations (Zagreb and Paris, including the deserted Gare d’Orsay), taking no comfort from Welles’ fable-spinning Advocate, before contriving the most damning of all responses to the chaos around him. The remarkable prologue was commissioned from pioneer pinscreen animators Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker. Timeout
There are so many outstanding moments in this film it is difficult to find one or even three standouts. It is shot in a similar way to Citizen Kane, with a focus on wider shots and perspective, as can be seen by the cover photo I have chosen, showing the first scene in the film where Joseph K is at what I suppose would be the preliminary Hearing in his trial saga. A lot of the scenes were shot in the Gare d’Orsay in Paris, after it shut down as a working train station but before it became the Museum D’Orsay, which now houses some magnificent Van Goghs, among other tremendous works, which I remember being very moved by visiting as a child. I wonder how my perception would alter now.
Another quite haunting scene for me was when Joseph meets Titorelli the painter, who informs him all about the nefarious Court’s practices. This scene is preluded by Joseph K meeting the girls outside the artist’s studio who follow him. You can see them at either side of the hallway following Joseph K as he leaves Titorelli’s studio in the above photograph. This for me captures the almost choking claustrophobia of the book and film. The fundamental hopelessness of Jospeh’s cause is highlighted in this scene especially. Titorelli tells Joseph of the rules of the Court, while being badgered by dozens of young girls outside, who are also agents of the Court, and escapes them through a corridor which leads directly to the Court. I found it utterly extraordinary.
I shan’t go further to avoid spoilers but this is a truly special film, as indeed most of Orson Welles’ films are (Magnificent Ambersons is a must watch, even with pat of it still missing to this day). Beautifully shot, Anthony Perkins is radiant as Joseph, Welles is superlative as the useless lawyer and the whole thing is a beautiful translation of the airlessness of the novel.