The Moorish general Othello is manipulated into thinking that his new wife Desdemona has been carrying on an affair with his lieutenant Michael Cassio when in reality it is all part of the scheme of a bitter ensign named Iago.
Josef K wakes up in the morning and finds the police in his room. They tell him that he is on trial but nobody tells him what he is accused of. In order to find out about the reason of this accusation and to protest his innocence, he tries to look behind the facade of the judicial system. But since this remains fruitless, there seems to be no chance for him to escape from this Kafkaesque nightmare. Written by
Joern Richts <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"The Trial" is based on the Franz Kafka novel of the same name. Welles also includes a shorter Kafka parable, "Before the Law," in the pinscreen opening to the movie. See more »
When Josef K. follows Hilda being carried out of the large trial room/hall by the law student, he hastily grabs and throws on his suit jacket. In the succeeding scenes, the jacket's buttons which are buttoned changes. See more »
Before the law, there stands a guard. A man comes from the country, begging admittance to the law. But the guard cannot admit him. May he hope to enter at a later time? That is possible, said the guard. The man tries to peer through the entrance. He'd been taught that the law was to be accessible to every man. "Do not attempt to enter without my permission", says the guard. I am very powerful. Yet I am the least of all the guards. From hall to hall, door after door, each guard is ...
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The end cast credits are read over by Orson Welles without titles See more »
By the times Welles moved his cast and crew to Paris to complete "The Trial", the large-scale project conceived and filmed in Yugoslavia was having to be whittled down fairly drastically because, not for the first or last time in Welles' career, the money had run out. The Paris scenes are shot entirely inside the (then) magnificently derelict Gare d'Orsay, and one wonders if the film's simple, no-frills prologue was forced on Welles by dint of poverty. Monochrome drawings are flipped upwards in a process which Welles calls "pin-screen". The director narrates the fable of a man who seeks entry through the Door of Justice, but never reaches his goal. This conundrum of guards and portals harks back to ancient times, and provides a neat distillation of the story to come.
For the entirety of the long scene in K's bedroom, and throughout the major part of the film, Welles positions the camera slightly below waist height. This 'wrong' spatial relationship creates in the viewer a vague sense of unease, a visual disorientation which compounds K's emotional loss of bearings. Welles plays clever tricks with the proportions of the rooms, their lines being slightly out of kilter, and the ceilings very much in view. Typically, Welles is deliberately and flamboyantly breaking a cardinal rule of cinematography - 'keep the ceiling out of shot'. Interiors seem open and spacious if we can't see the ceiling, and Welles is after the converse effect: driving home the point that K inhabits an airless, joyless place and his surroundings are imbued with inchoate hostility.
German expressionism had gripped Welles' imagination back in the 1930's, and virtually all of his films show its abiding influence. The columns of the opera house represent social regimentation, and K offends against social conformity by awkwardly pushing his way out of the theatre, an irregular irritant polluting the symmetry of the seating. When K gets caught in the exodus of workers from the office, he is both literally and metaphorically swimming against the tide. His microscopic ineffectuality against the ponderous stateliness of the courtroom doors drives home the expressionist point - he is a puny Jonah, entering the cavernous bowels of The State.
"To be in chains is sometimes safer than being free," and it could be said that Welles' genius flourished best when shackled by a dearth of resources. Lacking the money for costumes during the shooting of "Othello", Welles turned adversity to artistic advantage, filming the murder scene in a turkish bath, not only obviating the need for clothing but also making a succinct point about Iago's motives being 'stripped bare'. "The Trial" affords another example of Welles' remarkable fecundity. Zitorelli's studio is built of cheap slats and lit from outside, creating a powerful cinematic image of The State's placeman clinging precariously to his wretched privileges - all filmed at practically no expense. The skewed, empty picture frames are silent comments on the distorted and barren perspective of Zitorelli, the human race's Benedict Arnold.
K is a Freudian picaro, journeying in despair through the intestines of a nightmare system of justice, an apparatus ironically designed to ensure that justice is stifled. The shades of Buchenwald are introduced by Welles. Defendants wait with meathooks above their heads and, in other parts of this unfathomable 'system', nameless naked unfortunates stand in quiet misery, their numbers hanging from their necks. Leni and The Wife are grotesque distortions of Dante's Beatrice, malformed guides with no sense of direction and no transcendent vision. Welles himself plays Hassler the advocate, the bully who has no thought of his client's welfare but seeks only to perpetuate the cruel gavotte of litigation. "The confusion's impenetrable," a point reinforced by shooting characters through interminable patterns of beams and girders, whose shifting geometry engulfs the insignificant humans.
In his 1985 biography of Welles, Charles Higham declared "The Trial" a failure, concluding that it was "muffled, dull, unexciting on every level". Perhaps more tellingly, he criticised Welles for adopting a grandiose approach, whereas Kafka's work cries out for spareness and understatement. Higham is excellent, but the film is not, in my humble opinion, a failure. It evokes with emotional power a dreamspace of despair, and in so doing renders a great service to Kafka's oeuvre.
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