Sunday, November 16, 2014
The Trial (1962 film)
Based on the novel by Franz Kafka, The Trial is the story of a bureaucrat who is accused of a crime he has no clue what he committed as he is targeted by those in society. Written for the screen, directed, and starring Orson Welles, the film is a look into the world of totalitarian society where a man tries to figure out what he did wrong as it leads to all sorts of questions about the way life works. Also starring Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Elsa Martinelli, and Akim Tamiroff. The Trial is a strange yet visually-astonishing film from Orson Welles.
Set in a futuristic world in an unnamed country, the film revolves around a man trying to figure out why he is being targeted by authorities where he asks questions into what he is charged with. It plays into a world where a man goes into a journey to figure out why he has been arrested as it leads all sorts of strange left turns and places as he has no clue what is going on. Even as his encounter with a trio of women would get him into places he has no idea what is going on as his attempts to seek help become more confusing. Orson Welles’ screenplay definitely plays into the abstract writing style of Franz Kafka where it is more about a man trying to understand a world that he is in and how his life had been defined by playing a role in society where there aren’t any ideas of individualism. Even as characters are people who aren’t exactly as they seem as it plays into the world that Josef K. (Anthony Perkins) is surrounded with.
Welles’ direction definitely plays to not just a sense of style in its homage to film noir but also infuse this very entrancing style of framing and camera angles that is akin to the style of European cinema of the times. Much of the direction plays into the world of Kafka where Josef would go into this journey where he walk into one building and then find himself in a building he knows but wonders how he got there. The direction definitely has this abstract tone not just in some of the compositions where there’s some high camera angles and low ones but also in its use of wide shots. Much of it involves these intricate ideas of framing in the way buildings are presented to make it feel like a futuristic world while Welles’ approach to low angles with its close-ups play into the drama as well as the suspense.
The crowd scenes are also effective to play into this feel of totalitarianism and bureaucracy where Josef K. is someone trying to fit into that world but there’s aspects of him that makes him a very dangerous threat to society. Even as he is forced to play into allegories such as this story that opens the film that Welles narrates as it would have a lot of metaphors for what Josef K. has to go through. Overall, Welles creates a very thrilling and provocative film about a man who is a target for a crime he has no idea what he committed.
Cinematographer Edmond Richard does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography with its use of lights to play into some of the film‘s dark moods and textures as well as some of the exteriors that add a futuristic feel to its locations. Editors Yvonne Martin and Frederick Muller, with additional and un-credited work from Orson Welles, do amazing work with the editing with its approach to fast-cutting in some of the very intense suspense scenes along with other stylish cuts to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Jacques Mandaroux does excellent work with the set pieces from the offices as well as the design of the courtrooms and how some of them are strangely connected to one another.
Costume designer Helene Thibault does nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual with the exception of some of the stylish clothing the women wear. The sound work of Guy Villette is fantastic for the atmosphere it conveys in some of the scenes involving crowds as well as the office building that Josef K. works at. The film’s music by Jean Ledrut is superb for its mixture of eerie orchestral music that is mixed in with frenetic jazz music where the former plays into the drama while the latter adds energy to its suspense.
The film’s phenomenal cast include some notable small roles from Max Haufler as Josef’s uncle, Naydra Shore as Josef’s young cousin, Michael Lonsdale as a priest, Arnoldo Foa as a lead inspector who arrests Josef, Fernand Ledoux as a chief law clerk, Suzanne Flon as a mysterious woman dragging a luggage that Josef meets, Madeleine Robinson as the landlady that Josef is friendly with, William Chappell as a mysterious painter whom Josef meets late in the film, and Akim Tamiroff in a terrific performance as a client of a mysterious lawyer. Elsa Martinelli is wonderful as a courtroom guard’s wife who flirts with Josef as she gives him odd answers. Romy Schneider is fantastic as a mysterious lawyer’s mistress named Leni who seduces Josef as she would also bring in some questionable suggestions for Josef’s quest.
Jeanne Moreau is excellent in a small role as Josef’s neighbor Marika Burstner who is a nightclub dancer that is trying to cope with her job as she is aware that she is being evicted. Orson Welles is amazing as the mysterious lawyer known as the Advocate as he is this very strange individual who tries to get Josef to work with him only to make him confused and such. Finally, there’s Anthony Perkins in a pretty good performance as Josef K. where Perkins does bring a lot of energy though he’s sort of miscast as he tends to overact some of his emotions while he doesn’t bring enough gravitas to make his character that compelling.
The Trial is an excellent film from Orson Welles that explores the world of the unknown set in a futuristic society. While it does have some flaws that includes a somewhat weak performance from Anthony Perkins, it is still a very engaging film for the way it explores totalitarianism and bureaucracy as well as presenting it with such style. In the end, The Trial is a superbly rich film from Orson Welles.
Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming Othello – (The Other Side of the Wind)
Related: (Orson Welles: One-Man Band) - (They'll Love Me When I'm Dead) - (The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles)
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