TRIAL, THE (Procès, Le)

(director/writer: Orson Welles; screenwriter: from the book by Franz Kafka; cinematographer: Edmond Richard; editor: Fritz Mueller; music: Jean Ledrut; cast: Tony Perkins (Joseph K), Jeanne Moreau (Miss Burstner), Orson Welles (Advocate), Elsa Martinelli (Hilda), Romy Schneider (Leni), Madeleine Robinson (Mrs. Grubach), Akim Tamiroff (Bloch), Suzanne Flon (Miss Pittl), Naydra Shore (Irmie, Joseph K.’s cousin), Raoul Delfosse (Policeman), Jean-Claude Rémoleux (Policeman), Max Haufler (Uncle Max), Max Buchsbaum (Examining Magistrate), Arnoldo Foa (Inspector A); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alexander Salkind; Milestone; 1962-France/West Germany/Italy-in English)

“A unique cinematic experience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane”/”Touch of Evil”) in a defensive manner has said that “The Trial’ is the finest film I have ever made.” This after much criticism from film critics, who were generally somewhat disappointed in his handling of the social allegory. Welles’s darkest and most spooky comedy is a loose adaptation of the Franz Kafka novel, published posthumously in 1925, where he keeps the nightmarish, labyrinthine comedy but adds an uncharacteristic apocalyptic ending –something not found in any of Kafka’s novels.

It was mostly shot in Paris’s deserted railway station Gare d’Orsay (since turned into one of the world’s great museums) and various locations in Zagreb (fleeing Yugoslavia when the producer Salkinds-father and son- went insolvent).

It features a striking prologue by pinscreen animators Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker, while Welles provides the narration as the storyteller of this little parable about the relationship of the law between man and God; and, of being allowed when the time is ripe to walk through the one door that is meant only for you.

The Trial takes place in an unnamed hostile country. Anthony Perkins is an excellent choice because of his repressed homosexuality (just like in Psycho) to play the Jewish bureaucrat clerk Joseph K, a man arrested in his bare apartment early in the morning by two heavy-handed fascist-type of policeman and not told what crime he is charged with as he’s brought to trial.

Filled with a sense of guilt, a constant twitch, a nervous manner of speaking and hiding his fear through repression of being exposed as some kind of sexual deviant, the bland but ambitious office clerk takes no comfort as he’s defended by the tyrannical Advocate (Orson Welles), who offers him no reason to believe his case will be resolved in a positive way. Never told what he’s charged with, the innocent man begins to doubt even his innocence, as he’s mentally tortured by trying to recall what he might have done to deserve this fate.

Smartly filmed in vast dark empty spaces, cluttered interiors, war-torn exteriors, chilling lobbies and arcades, which are turned into Freudian dreamscapes of the unconscious. The sinister inhuman/baroque/surreal look is the look everywhere in the film, including in Joseph K’s office workplace (which can be compared to the horrors of a cold American workplace). K’s shown there in an unsympathetic light, as an unfeeling bureaucrat who is worried only about himself. As the trial pushes on, K becomes involved with three sexually intriguing women — Jeanne Moreau (his next door neighbor prostitute), Romy Schneider (mistress of the Advocate), and Elsa Martinelli (a cleaning lady in the law courts) — who all serve as bitter reminders of how he has been persecuted all his life and has tried in his fatalistic way to withdraw from life, but is shown in his short life even that’s not possible.

The film is brilliantly lit on the dark side, much like a film noir, pouring over with critical thoughts about the individual, society, and art. Though not for all all tastes, those who stay with this one will be richly rewarded with a unique cinematic experience. Welles is a great filmmaker, who is an excellent guide into a Kafkaesque nightmare.