The Trial

Dir: Orson Welles
Star: Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider

Based on the novel by Franz Kafka, Perkins plays Joseph K, an office worker who wakes up one morning to find himself accused of...something. Neither we nor he ever find out quite what, and he is soon mired in a bureacratic maze of hearings, impenetrable procedure and a legal machine that seems to care little for justice, and more about grinding relentlessly on. His sole help - and I'm using "help" in its loosest sense here - is an advocate (Welles) and his mistress (Schneider), though the former is more a megalomaniac on his own power-trip, as becomes abundantly clear when Joseph meets one of the other clients, now forced to sleep in the office in case the advocate wants to speak to him. The pursuit of acquital consumes Joseph's every waking moment: is it a pointless effort?

I have to say, this is one of the most impressively-set films I've seen. It was shot first in Yugoslavia, including K's office, where 850 clerical workers work on 850 typewriters, and then moved to Paris, using the abandoned Gare D'Orsay station as an immense backdrop against which the hero becomes little more than an insignificant speck. The feel of an unending nightmare is also perfectly realised by Welles, poor Joseph stuck in an unending loop with little hope of escape. That said: god, this is dull. Chris bailed into unconsciousness within 20 minutes, and watching someone flail through red-tape, even in a surreal, alternate universe, is a hard slog. While I can see how it was an influence on the likes of Brazil, particularly at the ending, it vanishes up its own self-importance. Sharply divides Wellesians: some adore it, others hate it. I can see both points of view.

[November 2008]

More a trial 
than a pleasure
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