The Trial

  • 1963
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

Welles applied his bravura directorial style to Kafka's landmark 1925 novel about Joseph K (Perkins), an office clerk who gets arrested without being told why. The film opens over a series of pin-screen pictures (a technique using pins, cloth, light, and shadows created by A. Alexeieff) of a guard in front of a huge door, preventing a man from entering....read more

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Welles applied his bravura directorial style to Kafka's landmark 1925 novel about Joseph K (Perkins), an office clerk who gets arrested without being told why.

The film opens over a series of pin-screen pictures (a technique using pins, cloth, light, and shadows created by A. Alexeieff) of a guard in front of a huge door, preventing a man from entering. For years the man awaits entrance through the door which leads to the Law, but he never gains

admittance. The narrator (Welles) then explains, "It has been said that the logic of this story is the logic of a dream. Do you feel lost in a labyrinth? Do not look for a way out. You will not be able to find one . . . There is no way out."

Kafka's novel doesn't translate well into film, being too dependent on the internal thoughts and frustrations of Joseph K during his quest. Aware of this problem, Welles has chosen to concentrate on the atmosphere of K's world, accompanied by the dreamy musical leitmotif of Albinoni's "Adagio."

The sets are typical Welles baroque--massive structures which engulf K in the same way Xanadu swallowed Charles Foster Kane in CITIZEN KANE. These sets alone--with their haunting shadows and claustrophobic walls and ceilings--make THE TRIAL essential viewing. Welles's enthusiasm for the film is

remarkable: "Say what you like, but THE TRIAL is the best film I ever made."

The film's genesis goes back to Miguel and Alexander Salkind, the father-and-son producing team, who offered Welles a list of 15 classic novels which were in public domain. Welles was to choose one that he wanted to film and, without much enthusiasm (Welles admits he had a "lack of profound

sympathy for Kafka"), he agreed to The Trial. Production began in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, but was soon shut down for lack of funds. Skipping out on bills owed there, Welles and his entourage returned to Paris to complete the film at the abandoned Gare d'Orsay train station, an overwhelming structure

which seems to have been built with Welles in mind. Although the film has its admirers, its opening was less than favorable. Originally scheduled to play the 1962 Venice Film Fest, it did not open until December 21 of that year in Paris. Not only did Welles have to overcome financial and

scheduling restrictions, but he had problems with the casting. He had first cast himself as a priest, but when no suitable actor could be found for the advocate, Welles took over the role, scrapping the footage he had already shot. Shot in English, THE TRIAL was dubbed for its foreign-language

releases, which had a variety of running times. Two players were cut from the US release: Katina Paxinou, as a scientist, and Van Doude, who played an archivist.

The chief difference between Welles's Joseph K and Kafka's is in the extent of their guilt. While Kafka stresses ambiguity, Welles is clear in his feelings: "He is a little bureaucrat. I consider him guilty . . . He belongs to a guilty society; he collaborates with it." Welles further points to

his differences with Kafka: "I do not share Kafka's point of view in The Trial. I believe that he is a good writer, but Kafka is not the extraordinary genius that people today see in him." Nonetheless, Kafka's story is far more successful as a novel than a film.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Welles applied his bravura directorial style to Kafka's landmark 1925 novel about Joseph K (Perkins), an office clerk who gets arrested without being told why. The film opens over a series of pin-screen pictures (a technique using pins, cloth, light, and… (more)

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