The Trial (1962)

Genres - Drama, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama  |   Run Time - 118 min.  |   Countries - Germany , France , Italy   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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In this 1962 production, director Orson Welles uses the same black-and-white palette that made him famous in Citizen Kane to paint a surreal portrait of an ordinary man lost in the abyss of a totalitarian legal system. The plot is simple: Police arrest bank clerk Joseph K (Anthony Perkins) but refuse to tell him why. Citizen K then spends the rest of the film trying to exonerate himself. The theme of the film is the individual's powerlessness against the tyranny of a super state -- or any other force over which meager man has no control. The novel on which Welles based the film -- Franz Kafka's 1925 masterpiece Der Prozess (The Trial) -- used that theme to foreshadow the monstrous injustice of the fascist dictatorships of the 1930s. In the film, Welles follows Citizen K on his odyssey through a labyrinthine legal system that calls to mind the nine circles of Dante's Inferno. To intensify Citizen K's alienation, Welles isolates him in cavernous courtrooms and shadowy streets as K attempts to vindicate himself. Though unrelievedly gloomy, the motion picture has moments of off-the-wall humor. Citizen K's lawyer, for example, is Welles himself, a bedridden good-for-nothing whose nurse has webbed fingers. As K pursues justice, one can almost picture Welles behind the camera gleefully prodding his woebegone marionette deeper and deeper into his maze of despair. At the height of his frustration, K runs through a dark corridor with decaying walls admitting slivers of light that prick his sanity. Perkins exhibits the right mix of confusion, vulnerability, and rebellion to present his character as a hapless victim. Because the film sometimes looks more like a Dali painting than a motion picture, many critics dismissed it as trumpery after it debuted. Decades later, however, some critics took a second look at it, concluding that it was a work of genius. The consensus today is that there is no consensus. Depending on the viewer's tastes and perspective, The Trial is either supremely boring or supremely fascinating.