The Trial DVD review

Film / Video Reviews
The Trial DVD review
Dec 17, 2006, 05:45

THE TRIAL (1963) directed by Orson Welles; Image Entertainment, 2000

Citizen Kane has been the yardstick against which Orson Welles has been judged—and misjudged. The 1941 film, made at the age of 26, is perhaps one of the greatest debuts by any artist of the twentieth century. So great that it still overshadows the rest of his career.

In the last couple years, though, Welles's other flicks have been peaking their heads out from under it. Restored versions of film noirs' Touch of Evil and The Lady From Shanghai have been reissued to new audiences and critical raves.

The latest to see the second light is The Trial. When released in 1963, it was overlooked by moviegoers and critics alike. Welles's last substantial film (and one he often cited as his favorite), however, is no less a work than Citizen Kane, despite the fact that it's the exact opposite kind of film.

Whereas Kane told the story of an American individualist who accumulates wealth, power, and a mansion he calls Xanadu, The Trial is a forbidding exploration of a powerless bureaucrat trapped in a suffocating society. There is no sprawling megalomania in wide-open spaces, only claustrophobia in the Old World.

Based on the novel by Franz Kafka, it follows Joseph K. (Anthony Perkins) though a maze of false doors and illogic. One morning, at 6 a.m. he is awakened by the police and informed that he has committed a crime. Except that he has no idea what it is—and neither does anyone else. What ensues are endless bureaucratic snafus as K. attempts to discover what is going on.

Welles's direction is the perfect accomplice to the nightmare, creating one surreal scene after another. The courtroom is massive and stocked with mocking, laughing spectators. K.'s bedroom seemingly offers a hundred escapes—all of which lead him back to his accusers. And the corporation is a labyrinth, full of anonymous clerks all typing away in unison.

Meanwhile, the dialogue is a surreal traffic jam of misunderstandings. In one scene, a neighbor, played by Jeanne Moreau, asks, “How do you know you were accused?” K. responds, “They woke me up and told me.” To which she asks, “Are you sure you were awake?”

His camera is just as fractured. It moves in fits and seizures, capturing every anguished look on Perkins' face with exaggerated close-ups. And it takes the expressionistic style he became famous for to a new extreme. He shoots from above, below and side—any angle that distorts reality and conveys K.'s plight.

It's a plight Welles knew quite well. When he traveled to France to make The Trial, he was a man banished. Movie studios had branded him an auteur who turned out box office flops—a death sentence in Hollywood.

With The Trial, he finally regained creative control for the first time since Kane. Welles chose K., the anti-Kane. And while it paralleled his own descent from power to powerless, it resulted in a work just as powerful as his groundbreaking debut.

-John Petkovic

Filed Under: Film-DVD-VideoFilm-DVD-Video Reviews

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