The Trial (1963)

The Trial (Orson Welles, 1963)

First of all, Orson Welles' films are so dense and deep that this simple review or text does not pretend to condense and analyze the oeuvre that is The Trial adapted from Kafka's novel. His entire career Orson Welles had to fight to get financing to make films, to get the final cut and preserve the integrity of his vision. The Trial is my personal favorite film from Welles' filmography; François Truffaut once wrote about it that it was The Trial he liked the least from Welles' because he wrote that K. is smaller than man and Orson Welles is bigger than men. I deeply respect François Truffaut but I must disagree with him here, I once read somewhere that Masterpieces are not perfect films and that the great films that have weakness should be loved for these weaknesses. I totally agree here on that. Perfect films are nice to watch and are excellent to learn about filmmaking and techniques, but who can claim that Battleship Potemkin, that I really respect as a perfect film, is an entertainment? I would watch my imperfect The Trial instead. But it's my opinion it's refutable too!

The Trial is the story of Josef K. being arrested for a crime he doesn't know about and instead of going to jail he stays free but everyone knows about his trial and he must deal with the shame and the justice himself. His lawyer, portrayed by Orson Welles doesn't help him at all and as long as the film goes the story seems more and more complicated and weird.

The Prologue of the film is a little tale that explains all the logic of The Trial: the logic of this story is the logic of a nightmare. Narrated by Welles himself this line says much about what the film really says. This is one of the films of the second half of the century that announces the modern post war world like in a complete other treatment Jacques Tati's oeuvre especially his masterpiece Playtime.

In the role of Josef K., Anthony Perkins, with his skeletic shape, portrays a nervous and sometimes cocky accused banker. I think he gives a very good interpretation, even if his best presence on a screen theater was as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho. There are many others well known actors with very good parts in The Trial - Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff, and Orson Welles- but I think that Perkins' performance was above them all. The dialogues are staggered; K. will ask a question to another character and without answering to K. this character will speak ten lines of something totally out of subject and then give the information or a fraction of it to K. So it needed great acting to react adequately to Perkins' character.

The landscape is a very important character, it gave to Welles some of the best images in the abandonned Gare d'Orsay of Paris. And Edmond Richard's cinematography is stylized and unforgettable. It may be considered as experimental cinematography for some but for the twisted story The Trial represents I think that the images must reflect a twisted reality. There are many tracking shots (a technical aspect of cinematography Orson Welles couldn't afford in his self financed pictures) that shows how some situations are awkward and uncomfortable even for the audience. The sets feel overloaded and the depth of tend to minimise the characters and crush them down.

Few directors transposed literature to the screen with that mastery of the original material as Orson Welles, even if he changed some of the elements of the plot, represents to me many thinks such as individualism versus society, governments, great cities, institutions, big enterprises, etc. I think it represents how society and the modern world tend to crush or pull down individuals with their laws, procedures, administrations, well a modern day Babel tower...

A Review by Michaël Parent

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