“The Trial is the best film I have ever made”
Orson Welles proclaims to the world after his 1962 film ‘The Trial’ was completed. Indeed, he seems very proud of it, narrating the film’s final end credits, declaring that ‘(he) played the advocate and wrote and directed (the) film.’ and ending the film with a self introduction.
This film was originally a novel by the great author Franz Kafka, who has the term ‘Kafkaesque’ coined after his technique of writing literature. A nightmarish literature of paranoia, surrealism that haunts the senses. If there is any film adaptation of his work that truly deserved to be coined with the term ‘Kafkaesque’ it would be Orson Welles’ 1962 masterpiece ‘The Trial’.
Indeed it was a match from heaven to have Orson Welles who is no stranger to the expressionistic style of film-making and one of the greatest filmmakers to have ever lived to convey the nightmarish quality of the novel to the screen.
Just like it is to have Wes Anderson adapt a Ronald Dahl novel. (Fantastic Mr. Fox)
The film begins with a prologue. A strangely poetic tale of a man who waits for admittance to the law. It is narrated by Orson Welles himself. At the end of this story he states: “This tale is told during this story called ‘The Trial’ . It has been said that the logic of this story is the logic of a dream . Of a nightmare.”
Josef. K (Anthony Perkins) is the protagonist of this story, seemingly to be the only sane man in this world of a nightmare. This dysfunctional society that defies the idea of rationality, where lies, hypocrisy and servitude are the only way to thrive. From the very first scene we are introduced to the protagonist, he is arrested. Guilty of an unknown crime, one that he is not allowed to know of but perhaps he does know of it all alone.
He confesses to a woman. ‘Even when I hadn’t been up to anything at all, I’d still feel guilty.’
At the office where he works.
There are seemingly no walls at all. The staff merely sit at their desks, underneath the array of lights, working. Josef. K is at a superior position to the rest, yet his office consists of merely a short flight of stairs and a couple of desks.
In this world, of dream – like logic, the lies and hypocrisy are at the most obvious, leading way to certain truths that can only be seen with its presence. The architecture is at its most minimalistic. The boundaries removed, the office where perhaps there would be cubicles to allow for a little privacy is gone, for there is none to begin with. Here, the people are truly watched.
The film is filled with visuals beyond the imagination.
The wide open sets, shot through the use of a long shot displays a sort of tranquil beauty and surrealistic horror that I’ve not seen before. Welles shows, he never tells. He uses the visual language of cinema to display the inner state of his characters. As he always does.
In the scene where the little girls chase after Josef one can see is fueled with such horror and dream – like quality. The moving camera, the brilliant lighting, sound design and haunting set evokes something indescribable. Only something that I know I will never forgive myself if I call it anything other than ‘a marvel of cinema’.
‘The Trial’ is many things. A visual and cinematic achievement. A nightmarish tale of morality and self – righteousness in an incomprehensible world. Perhaps an absurdist dark comedy, similar to that of a more popular and well known film: Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
But I think that it is fair to say that it is one of the very best experiences that cinema can provide.