I read Kafka’s The Trial back in high school or college for fun, because that’s the kind of kid I was, and I really loved it – but that was let’s say several years ago and aside from the premise and general nightmarish inexorability of it, I didn’t remember a whole lot of actual details about it going into the film. That may have been unfortunate, since I did find it difficult to follow in some parts (I’ll admit to a little drowsiness, too), but in a way, it kind of weirdly enhanced the experience, since the whole point is Josef K is stuck in this labyrinthine and inescapable legal system, on trial for charges that are never stated. He can’t figure out what’s going on with him, so some confusion on my part felt fitting.
I wasn’t wholly on board with Anthony Perkins’ performance, especially in the beginning – what was he so nervous about? He had me feeling like he must be guilty of SOMETHING. Later he often strikes an odd note between exasperated and bored. I also wanted to see more Jeanne Moreau, but I was happy when Romy Schneider popped up. I’ve only seen her in a couple of other things, but I like her a lot. And of course, Welles as the The Advocate Hastler is unparalleled, a sort of older, fatter Harry Lime; less boyish but equally devoted to manipulating to the system to his own benefit.
Directorically, Welles feels like he’s preparing for Chimes at Midnight, which is only a couple of years away. The sets here are enormous, dwarfing Josef K as he tries to fight against something much larger than himself, and yet also rundown and incongruous, as when he’s taken to the law offices at the court, and it’s basically like a tenement. Welles apparently filmed in an abandoned railway station out of necessity (the ’60s were not kind to his funding), but I think it worked wonderfully. There are even scenes that seem to homage The Third Man, The Crowd, and The Apartment, but with a surreal, disquieting overtone.
The look of the film is brilliant – chiaroscuro lighting but to an absurd degree. It’s tempting to call it noir, but Kafka’s nightmare world surpasses even the fatalism of noir. Josef K is not a man whose fate has caught up to him, but a man in a world that has lost its mooring completely. Can’t even remark all the times I gasped at a striking or beautiful shot. I probably still enjoyed the book more, but I would’ve considered it difficult to impossible to make a good movie out of it, and Welles certainly proved me wrong on that. I’m really looking forward to seeing this again – would love to see it on the big screen!
Stats and stuff…
1962, France/West Germany/Italy
written and directed by Orson Welles
starring Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how The Trial entered my chart:
The Trial beats Homeward Bound
The Trial beats The Great Gatsby
The Trial loses to The Prestige
The Trial loses to Waking Life
The Trial beats On the Waterfront
The Trial loses to Rope
The Trial beats Take Shelter
The Trial loses to Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Trial loses to Come and Get It
The Trial loses to Yojimbo
The Trial loses to Gone Baby Gone
The Trial loses to Das Experiment
Final ranking #762 out of 3616 films on my chart (79%)
It is now my #4 Orson Welles film, my #2 Anthony Perkins film, my #3 Jeanne Moreau film, my #1 Romy Schneider film, my #15 Dystopian Film, my #22 Mindbender, and my #12 film of 1962.
The Trial was recommended by Ryan Swinimer, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook. Averaging together this #762 ranking with my #1700 ranking of his other film, The Wrestler, gives Ryan an average ranking of 1231.
A few quotes…
Narrator: It’s been said that the logic of this story is the logic of a dream… a nightmare.
Joseph K.: I don’t pretend to be a martyr, no.
Hastler: Not even a victim of society?
Joseph K.: I am a member of society.
Hastler: Do you think you can persuade the court that you’re not responsible by reason of lunacy?
Joseph K.: I think that’s what the court wants me to believe. Yes, that’s the conspiracy: to persuade us all that the whole world is crazy, formless, meaningless, absurd. That’s the dirty game. So I’ve lost my case. What of it? You, you’re losing too. It’s all lost, lost. So what? Does that sentence the entire universe to lunacy?
Hastler: To be in chains is sometimes safer than to be free.
Titorelli: You see, in definite acquittal, all the documents are annulled. But with ostensible acquittal, your whole dossier continues to circulate. Up to the higher courts, down to the lower ones, up again, down. These oscillations and peregrinations, you just can’t figure ’em.
Joseph K.: No use in trying either, I suppose.
Titorelli: Not a hope. Why, I’ve known cases of an acquitted man coming home from the court and finding the cops waiting there to arrest him all over again. But then, of course, theoretically it’s always possible to get another ostensible acquittal.
Joseph K.: The second acquittal wouldn’t be final either.
Titorelli: It’s automatically followed by the third arrest. The third acquittal, by the fourth arrest. The fourth…
Joseph K.: I think what surprises me most is how ignorant I am about everything concerning this court of yours. For an accused man, that’s a mistake. He should never let himself be caught napping, never for a minute let his eye stray to the left, when for all he knows, a judge or somebody like that can be lurking somewhere to the right.
A whole bunch more screenshots…