THE TRIAL (1962) Movie Review

Um… that was… well, something. I’m not quite sure what exactly, but it sure was… something.
But before getting into the actual film, there is one other thing to address here – Orson Welles.

The man is one of, if not THE highest-regarded filmmakers of all time, as most people will undoubtedly know. So why do I mention him specifically?

Well, simply because I have yet to fully embrace the man’s body of work. Moreover, aside from The Trial, the only other Welles project that I have been previously familiar with is Citizen Kane – arguably the “best” film ever made. And if I can be honest with all of you, blasphemous though it is, I couldn’t really get into Kane as much as I would like to.

Don’t get me wrong. I can easily recognize Welles’ infamous masterpiece as a brilliantly-made piece of art. I think anyone would have to concede that. The problem with my viewing of Kane was mainly that I just never felt all that invested or moved by what was happening onscreen, impressed though I was by the technique.

That being said, I did find myself (for one reason or another) propelled to take another trip into the Welles cannon in search of The Trial – a cinematic adaptation of the Franz Kafka novel of the same name.

What is immediately striking about this picture is how swiftly and unceremoniously it throws you into the deep end. We are only given a brief narration by Welles introducing the film before the film rapidly begins with inspectors making their way into our protagonist’s apartment. There is little explanation, little care if the audience is confused, and little time to take a breathe throughout the entirety of the running time. And that is really quite brilliant.

Speaking of the protagonist, The Trial is led by Anthony Perkins, quite soon after his legendary performance in Hitchcock’s Psycho, as the central figure in the story, Josef K. And first, Perkins’ performance seems to differ very little from his immortal role as Norman Bates. When we meet him he is stuttering away and acting very much in the mold of his past character, but as the movie progresses, Perkins is able to be a much more accessible avenue for us to put ourselves in the story than was ever possible in Psycho, and that is a quality that is very much required in this film.

Why? Well, because The Trial seems to be less concerned with the actual unfolding of events than it is with the mood it is creating. Many times one wishes that the dialogue were delivered more clearly and in less of a rapid fashion, or that there were an option for closed captioning. But rather than being a flaw, this is a trait that is actually played up to show that the “plot” as it were is not as important as we would normally think. In fact, there is even a moment where we follow Perkins out of an exposition scene in favor of discovering a new, more interesting side character.

Perhaps this sense of confusion will sound off-putting to some, but the true reason to seek out this movie is for the nightmare-ish landscape that it establishes. In these terms it could almost be compared to Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr as both films paint an evocative other-worldly atmosphere that casts a traditional plot into a secondary role.

Orson Welles once claimed that The Trial was his best film, and though I don’t have complete knowledge of the man’s oeuvre, it is an endlessly interesting piece of art. Sure, you need to be an a certain mood and frame of mind to appreciate it, and it surely would benefit from repeated viewings, but surely that only serves to add a certain mystique to the proceedings.

Yes, surely one can recognize why Citizen Kane is the Welles film that the majority of people return to over and over and will continue to do so for years to come. But for me, The Trial is the movie with a far more enticing world of nuances that I look forward to revisiting in the future.

Rating: 5 out of 5

~ Stephen

Vía Letterboxd – The Paper Masque blog