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Chromium_519 January 2004
After reading some of the other user comments for this movie, I feel a bit out of my league. Unlike the other reviewers, I do not belong to Mensa, and I am not going to even TRY to show how this movie represents "social regimentation" or whatever.

Instead, I am simply going to say what I like best about it: the atmosphere. This is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. Welles did a superb job of capturing an uneasy, nightmarish feeling. The camera angles and perspectives are perfect.

"The Trial" basically consists of scene after scene of surreal settings. We get to see endless rows of people working on typewriters, the inside of a crate while hundreds of eyes peer through the cracks, a labyrinth of tall bookshelves stacked with old law books, and tons of other dark surrealism that is amazing to look at.

As far as plot goes, Anthony Perkins is trapped in a corrupt judicial system, accused of an unspecified crime. He does a great job of making his character a paranoid wreck, and you can't help but feel paranoid yourself while watching the movie. Sometimes there is a spacious atmosphere, and other times it is extremely claustrophobic. And it is all perfectly done in black and white.

I highly recommend watching this, if only to look at the awesome sets. You will think you are in a nightmare yourself.
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This is how you film a literary classic: not by toadying to it, but by assuming that you created it yourself.
alice liddell18 August 1999
This is probably Welles' most complete masterpiece since CITIZEN KANE. Not that it's better than AMBERSONS or TOUCH OF EVIL, but there's a wholeness, a freedom from interference, a focusing of vision that's complete. It's also a relief to be able (for once)to enjoy a Welles performance from this period, rather than laughing with him at its crass silliness. Akim Tamiroff is (as ever) extraordinary, while Anthony Perkins captures the mixture of nervousness and arrogance central to Welles' K.

THE TRIAL is also a textbook lesson in how to film a classic text. While cinema thrives on the second-rate, transcending and enriching banality, it tends to founder when it appropriates the Great Works, due in part to the incompatibility of forms, but mostly because of pointless reverence. Why bother being completely faithful to, say, Howard's End, when we can read the book. Surely the only reasons to film a classic are to a)make it adaptable to film form; b)make it relevant to our age; or c)make it relevant to the director's sensibility.

Welles, on one level, is certainly faithful to Kafka's vision. We get a nightmare depiction of bureaucracy gone mad, of the increasing, unidentifiable totalitarianism of modern life, of the persecution of the individual, of the impossibility of rebellion and alternatives. The sense of labyrinth and nightmare, and a desolate world abandoned by God, is chillingly evoked in the film's astonishing visual framework, the hallucinatory set-pieces, the disorientating comedy, the bewildering logic. The knowledge that K.'s workplace was filmed in a disused railway station only adds to the film's complexity - this is a society cut off from other people, ideas, civilisations; one where there is no coming or going, no escape.

And yet Welles subverts all this. By removing Kafka's ambiguity, he makes the work more ambiguous. Unlike the book, Welles draws attention to the fact that this is a nightmare. K. begins the film getting dressed, and ends it stripping, the reverse process of going to sleep (i.e. to move plausibly back from the dream world to reality, K. has to return to the state that led to dream, unclothed in bed).

The suggestion that his adventures are a dream draws attention to the film's main theme - the dangers of solipsism. K. is a paranoid - because he sees the world only from his point of view, he feels that everyone is out to get him. His selfishness is subtly hinted at throughout the film, by his stated profession not to get involved with anything, to avoid problems, to avoid others' problems, to keep himself to himself, and get on. Of course, this means that no-one will help him, as he finds out throughout the film. And if everybody is indifferent to their neighbour, than no wonder people are burned in death camps. Wasn't that the excuse of 'ordinary' Germans after the war? 'We knew nothing about it'.

That's why well-fed K. with his privileged job, is greeted by a gaunt group of camp victims. Welles has to remould The Trial in the knowledge of the Final Solution. This is accomplished by parodying K.'s us vs. them outlook,k with a complex doubling pattern - private scenes bursting into mass activity; Dreyeresque austerity alternating with Wellesian baroque; a dynamic jazz score merging into Albinoni's tragic, apocalyptic, funereal Adagio.

Both readings aren't exclusive: they play off each other. Creating an appropriately Kafkaesque spiral of terror, the climactic scene - a classic Wellesian stand-off between K. and the Advocate (seemingly on his side, but really a playful collaborator), completes the dissolution of the individual. They are shown to be indistinguishable, mere shadows of men. I do not say that we fail to sympathise with K. - his light IS harrowing, but though his closing laugh can be interpreted as an admission of the Absurdity of the universe, it's a world made in his image.
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"Every Man Strives To Attain The Law"
stryker-530 December 1999
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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The Logic of a Nightmare
Snazel16 January 2002
The story of The Trial is the story of displacement. The protagonist in the film Josef K, (played by Anthony Perkins), is seemingly from another world. His morality, conduct and philosophy contrast so sharply from the nightmare around him, that one wonders if he was transported to another universe while sleeping. As a result, Josef K has no survival skills in his environment and his adherence to a personal morale code that is totally alien to the world he lives in, consummates his destruction.

Josef K literally awakes in the first scene, to a nightmare that he cannot understand, because his own sense of justice refuses to let him understand it. This is Josef K's downfall. There are survivors in the world painted by this film, grim survivors to be sure, but survivors none the less. Josef K is not one of them.

Josef K, in the context that surrounds him in this film, is dysfunctional. He has neither the character nor the experience to survive in his world. He seems oblivious to the lunacy of his environment and strives for something so completely alien, that one wonders where and how he even conceived of his morale code, given the world he lives in.

This of course, leads to terrific drama and an odd tension for the viewer throughout the entire film. That tension springs from the dichotomy of the film, Josef K's idealism vs. the cruel reality all around him. Perhaps more specifically the tension arises from Josef K's struggle for logic and reason in a world gone haywire with paranoia and corruption.

One of the minor but important strengths of this film is the encapsulation of its theme within the 2-minute anecdote that starts the picture. This prologue uses stark drawings on a wheel to transition from scene to scene and is both a riddle and a parable. It is accompanied by a sinister cello and a deep, cold narration by Orson Welles. The anecdote in the prologue is a tale of a man who 'seeks admittance to the law'. The riddle that is laid before him ends in death and with the realization that the man wasted his life, seeking a universal truth, to a very personal question.

Much later in the film, the character of the Advocate tries to retell the chilling prologue to Josef K. Josef however, dismisses the fairy-tale immediately. Refusing to hear its lesson and how it applies to his predicament. The advocate rightly notes, from the prologue: 'it has been observed that the man came to the law of his own free will'. What I believe Orson Welles is telling us, in this scene, is he personally believes Josef K's character to be guilty. Josef is not guilty of a crime to be sure, but he is guilty in his conscience. Josef's wretched self-righteousness and guilt-complex is ugly, even within the context of all the injustice, corruption and abuse that surround him.

Josef is weak, stubborn and oblivious and I believe Orson tells us subtly, that perhaps he deserves to die. What is also left unsaid by the Advocate is the man in the prologue willingly submitted himself to the lunacy that became his death. The man felt it better to live chained to an ideal, that to roam free in an unjust world. If there is a crime Josef K is guilty of, then that is likely it.

I have never read the novel, but I believe Josef K, is a much more tragic figure in Kafka's eyes. In the eyes of Orson Welles - it's apparent to me that Orson Welles considers Josef K to be neither tragic nor overly heroic.

While it may contrast strikingly with Kafka's intention, I think Welles tries to illustrate somewhat that Josef K, is not a complete victim. While Josef's surroundings are nightmarish beyond belief, Josef never adapts to them. He never learns how to survive or worse, refuses to learn how to survive. He judges his world but he hardly ever truly interacts with it and he immediately becomes distracted whenever he feels someone has transgressed his moral view of things.

While the actions of Josef K are noble and we sympathize with his plight, you feel little remorse for his eventual death, because Josef quite simply just does not belong. Like the creature at the end of metamorphosis, an innocent thing, is perhaps best left to die, because it is alien to its environment.

Like all good work, that interpretation of mine is open to a lot of debate. Which is another great feature of this film, it provokes a reaction and that reaction can help you understand more about yourself and your current surroundings.

I think this is strong work. Orson Welles finds ways to delight your eyes on screen. Some of the performances like Romy Schneider's performance as the mistress of the Advocate are seductive and chilling.

It is interesting that women in this film are perverted, contorted and shallow. The perversion of society in Josef K's world is so pervasive that his own 16-year-old cousin cannot even visit him, without suspicion from his co-workers. Even sex and passion in this world is twisted into secrecy, innuendo and fear. The only true female survivors in this film are women who willingly cast themselves as supplicants to men of power and intrigue. While this message may affront those who are sensitive, it adds another element to the nightmare that makes this film so strong.

The film has a similar parallel to the Bicycle Thief in my opinion. The protagonist is sympathetic but is surrounded by injustice and cruelty that shreds his very existence. In both films, no amount of effort on the protagonist's behalf will solve his dilemma. Both characters struggle to come to terms with their tragic plight. Like Antonio, Josef K's quest is futile and his only salvation is acceptance. Unlike Antonio however, Josef K never truly transforms, he will not sink to the same level as the world around him. This is why we feel so sorry for Antonio at the end of the Bicycle Thief but see the Trial's ending as more inevitable than tragic.

It is sometimes hard to feel sorry for a martyr who wears his thorny crown so smugly. This is where the protagonist of Josef and Antonio (Bicycle Thief) depart. Josef willingly becomes a self-righteous martyr, while Antonio chooses life, even at the expense of his dignity.

The logic of this film is the logic of a dream and a nightmare. The Trial is a moral nightmare - a world where the only options for survival are: lies, hypocrisy and servitude. A sacrifice, Josef K, refuses to make and so his door closes, forever.
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The Most Visually Astounding and Utterly Disturbing Film
findkeep29 April 2001
Never has any film reached down off its silver screen and shaken me as violently as did The Trial. I came out of my local art house quivering. Even now, as I write, I detect a hint of paranoia. I would go as far as to say Orson Welles' The Trial is the most frightening film I've ever beheld. Watching it for the first time it's safe to say I hated it. There were scenes that held me so close to the edge of madness, it was all I could do not to fly screaming out of the theater. Only afterwards, on the way home, did I realize that its ability to do so was what made the film so remarkable. Definitely a must see, but be forwarned.
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The Closest Thing to a Paranoid Nightmare Ever Filmed
robertguttman4 April 2007
Like many of Orson Welles films, The Trial has been imitated by other filmmakers. Patrick McGoohan borrowed part of The Trial's interiors for the famous opening of "The Prisoner", and David Lynch borrowed part of the exteriors for "Eraserhead". Neither, however, approaches the relentlessly grim paranoia of the Welle's original.

I don't believe that Kafka ever published The Trial during his lifetime. In his will he left instructions that all his literary manuscripts should be destroyed after his death. In what was, perhaps, the final irony of Kafka's life, it was only the disobedience of the executor of the writer's estate that made the peculiarly paranoid world Kafka had created available to the public at all.

See this film and, afterwords, try to get a peaceful night's sleep.
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Orson Welles's Best Movie
reader41 March 2001
When asked on the IMDb poll to enter the name of my favorite movie, I at first thought it an impossible task. Once this one entered my mind, though, the contest was over.

The lifetime masterpiece of a master of filmmaking, "The Trial" is Orson Welles's finest film, even surpassing "Touch of Evil." Somber, brooding, sometimes even claustrophobic, "The Trial" is a surrealistic safari through the worlds of law, employment and interpersonal relationships.

The melancholy strains of the artistically deployed Adagio by Albinoni underscore the mood of the film, shot mostly at twilight or indoors by night in a tangle of nightmarish sets that extend to infinity. Even scenes shot in broad daylight seem cold and devoid of nourishment in this cosmos of interminable, infinitesimal complexity which utterly lacks a heart.

Anthony Perkins (Joseph K.) is mass of contradictions, at once sympathetic, boyish, paranoid, angry, declamatory and most of all surpassingly frustrated by the futility of attempting to deal with a society that both demands mechanistic perfection of him and at the same time exhibits a persistent apathy toward his continued existence as well as a bureaucratic attempt to destroy it.

He seems inadvertently to hurt everyone with whom he comes in contact, ostensibly the cause of people getting thrown out of their dwellings, schools, jobs, marriages and other situations, all due to his benign actions which in any sane world would be completely unconnected with the tragedies they somehow appear to create. But in the Kafka/Welles society, they just lead to blame and further accusations. In his helplessness, his innocence and his utter bafflement, Perkins is thoroughly disarming.

Welles is positively diabolical as The Advocate, who, like everyone else connected with the Court, is not of any assistance or support to the accused. Rather, he seems to exist only to hurl vague accusations at Joseph K. - which the poor man is somehow expected to understand beforehand and even think are justified - and to exact payment for same.

Romy Schneider is outstanding as The Advocate's cook/housekeeper/nursemaid/concubine, the only person in the story who shows Joseph K. any genuine affection, odd though the form it takes may be. Other unforgettable and universally strange characters populate this odyssey into oblivion, such as the club-footed landlady doggedly dragging a trunk along an empty railroad track into the fading twilight while politely trying to refrain from telling Joseph K. how lowly she regards him.

The movie is fairly divergent from the book, which it inspired me to read. For example, the movie comes to a conclusion, while the unfinished book does not. In most ways, though, I find the movie more memorable, haunting and downright disturbing. Its skillfully crafted mesh of images and symbols which resonate at a level deeper than the conscious will find themselves recurring to the viewer unbidden for years to come.
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"The Logic Of A Dream"
stryker-529 December 1999
Franz Kafka was a citizen of the moribund Austro-Hungarian Empire, a dead culture in which mere administration had replaced government. Aware that its civilisation was decaying, the Austrian ruling class of Kafka's day could summon up no vitality or creativity, and devoted itself to suppressing 'The Revolution'. A state with thirteen languages and twice that number of separatist movements spent all its time trying to retard its own centrifugal forces. Austria-Hungary in these final decades was a honeyless hive in which minor officials and secret policemen busied themselves, striving feverishly to preserve the unpreservable. Kafka's dark novels capture the ugly mood of a dying political system whose instincts were authoritarian and whose inefficiency sapped all hope of reform.

In 1962, Welles was struggling through his locust years. Having long since alienated himself from Hollywood's money, he was living a vagabond life in Europe, flitting back and forth across the continent to scrape funds together, plan stage productions which hardly ever came to fruition, and sleepwalk through a dozen cameo roles in other people's films. The critical and financial catastrophe of 'Chimes' was hanging over him like a pall, and he had far too many distractions - squabbles with his Irish partners, tax bills in London and potentially ruinous law suits to stave off. With all this to contend with, he was still sporadically shooting portions of "Don Quixote" in Spain, a stuttering project that was by now in its sixth year of filming. Welles was desperately short of money, and as his biographer Higham puts it, "he could manage almost anything except austerity".

A harmless, inconsequential clerk wakes up one morning to find himself accused of something (he never discovers what). Secret policemen enter his bedroom and subject him to a frightening interrogation in which every answer provokes a new line of questioning. This is psychological torture, the mind's innate sense of justice constantly probing for some higher reference-point, some appeal to fairness, when in fact none exists. Josef K returns repeatedly to the obvious question, "But what have I done?" But there are no rules of justice here, no recourse to an autonomous code of law. "You have the unmitigated gall to pretend you don't know?"

A cry of anguish from the individual who finds himself overwhelmed by soulless bureaucracy, "The Trial" is a deeply personal statement by Welles, and as Higham puts it, "a symbol, if there ever was one, of his own career". Welles had been the enfant terrible whose erratic genius had alienated the big Hollywood studios. Cut off from the big money, he was to spend the subsequent forty years globetrotting aimlessly, picking up work as best he could.

Autobiographical elements of Kafka's own life, contained in "The Trial", are given prominence in the film. Austria-Hungary launched World War One in the same year that Kafka began work on the novel. Ironically, the limited war against Bosnia, intended to restore Austria's international credibility, turned into a conflagration bigger and more horrific than anything previously experienced on earth, and set in train the global violence which was to characterise the twentieth century. It also destroyed Austria-Hungary. Welles closes this story of 1914 with an image of nuclear catastrophe, stressing the oneness of the century's horror. Kafka was bullied by his father, and reference is made in the course of the film to K's sense of filial guilt. The office is depressing and demeaning, echoing Kafka's own experiences as a clerk in a bloated bureaucracy.

The State is remorseless and pitiless, grinding down and perverting even the strongest of human bonds, those of familial and sexual love. K is forced to reject his little cousin Irmie (Maydra Shore), who has to remain 'outside'. Later, an allegation of sexual impropriety concerning Irmie arises. Any magnanimity towards another is interpreted by the authorities as a denunciation. The torture scenes involving the secret policemen are the most disturbing part of the film, both because K realises how his own protests have borne poisoinous fruit, and because of the grinning obsequiousness of the victims. The State turns its problems into spineless curs who acquiesce in their own degradation.

Not only does K find himself becoming an accuser: he even assumes the role of interrogator, questioning Bloch and the Defendants. Anyone who is not a keyholder within the pitiless apparatus of The State cannot help but take on its deadly pallor. Keys are important. Leni, the Court Guard and Zitorelli are empowered through possessing keys. They are a corrupt priesthood in this cult of political disease.

Kafka's experiences with women were deeply ambivalent. He had many intense relationships in his life, none of which proved satisfactory. His book treats women as both temptresses and objects of loathing. Welles follows this line, the women being desirable guide-figures and also deformed monstrosities. The trunk-carrier, Lena and the hunchback girl all have bodily malformations.

Welles shot most of the film in Zagreb, capturing strikingly the two clashing styles of architecture of Mittel-Europa, overblown ugly Habsburg baroque and drab communist functionalism. It is as if the Prague of Mozart cannot help but decay into the Prague of Krushchev. "Ostensibly free" is the best K can hope for, and 'ostensibly individual' is our optimum condition, as the shadows of the Stalinist apartment blocks crowd in on us.
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European Surrealism
fideist4 March 1999
THE TRIAL is Orson Welles's version of a typical European film with all the surrealistic trappings one might expect from a work by a Fellini. The feel is very true to Kafka's works. The sets are stunning.

Anthony Perkins is perfectly cast. Welles does his usual quality acting. But it is Romy Schneider's face that lights up the screen whenever she is on. A sad reminder that she left us way too early.
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nutsy21 October 2003
Anthony Perkins realizes the paranoia of Joseph K, charged with an unnamed crime by uncooperative detectives and pursued by victims, executioners, and young girls through a nightmarish European city which is darker than the blackest things in horror of film noir. The terrifying,thought provoking, dreamily real picture could only have been brought to us by Orson Welles. He comes to us not only as a director, but again as an actor. Welles plays a bedridden lawyer in a cavernous house and enters in the cloud of smoke from a cigar. Romy Shneider shines as his nursemaid who seduces the lawyers clients like K and Block(Akim Tamiroff). Welles updated Kafka's THE TRIAL to the age after the holocaust and the atomic bomb. This is aided by the locations Welles was forced to shoot in after funding was cut. Edmund Richard masterfully moves his camera through the ruined interiors of a decaying industrial Europe. K's dillema is hightened by the cavernous abandoned railroad station. The picture is genius from the pinscreen opening to the spellbinding climax. Fans of THE THIRD MAN should appreciate the final scenes. Welles's best and therefore the best there is.
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Aptly Ambiguously Layered 7 1/2
tedg4 August 2002
Spoilers herein.

Welles is one of the three primary inventors of cinema. And when he says this film is his best -- and autobiographical to boot -- one should sit up and take notice.

It is a remarkable experience, this film. Here are some elements I found interesting that are not yet noted here.

The impressive interiors are in a then abandoned train station. Today, that building houses the world's greatest collection of impressionist and postmodern art. One can walk around that museum and locate many of the locations used. It is an unhappy building now: it has many objects as important as this film or the book it is based on -- and their intent is as iconoclastic as Welles and Kafka, but it is run as a heavyhanded, relatively totalitarian institution. One gets much the same feeling of trapped artists now walking around it as one gets from this film.

Here's a puzzle for you: what black and white film was made in Europe by a master filmmaker; released in 1963; is a surreal depiction of an artist's angst; uses the device of many lovers or potential lovers in an imaginary array of sexual partners; arranged according to stereotype; is autobiographical and considered by the filmmaker his best. Both this and 8 1/2. Too many similarities for this to be accidental, including some stylistic touches (the painter). Both are films about film-making.

Welles uses actors in a then unusual way. It had long been the practice to take actors of ordinary skill and fit them to characters that more or less match their personality. But that practice simply took advantage of what the actor could do and was as much a matter of the actor exploiting the system as anything else. Welles here exploits Perkins, an actor who hasn't a clue about what is going on and so never finds the character. Clearly Welles wanted the effect of utter disorientation and knew Perkins could not consciously produce it.

Others have since used this technique (the Coens come to mind), sometimes with celebrities who will be really ticked when they emerge from their fogs.

A final interesting element: the framing. Welles is a master of mixing and conflating narrative methods. 'Kane' surely holds the record. Here, he is constrained by the pre-existing text: it is important that there be few narrative threads: Perkins' confusion and denial; the 'state's version; and the whole thing may be a dream or paranoid vision. Welles for instance cannot imply that the whole thing is one of the painter's paintings for instance, something he would have included in a flash if he could. So he extends his narrative layers offscreen by explicitly referencing it as a play he is doing, as a book (a 'dirty' book), and most creatively as an illustrated parable. He frames the film with drawings that are halfway between book illustrations and theatrical set designs. And he narrates them in a manner halfway between a drama and a reading. Very, very clever use of framing to increase the narrative layers by reference beyond what you see.

Ted's Evaluation: 3 of 4 -- Worth watching.
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Interesting to try and follow, especially the first time.
Erb50215 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Contains Spoiler The film starts with Wells telling a story with animation. The story is a fable about a man waiting at the door to the `law', which could be a symbol of the door to judgment or even heaven and God. "The law should be accessible to every man," the man says. But, accessibility is not a simple matter in this movie at any point in time.

`The Trial' is about a man who one day is awoken and told that he has been found guilty of a crime and will eventually go to trial. He is permitted to carry on with his normal functions, but absolutely nothing is revealed to him about the nature of his crimes and why he is being charged. His character, K, does his best to investigate into why he is being charged and he seeks the counsel of Advocate Albert Hassler, who is played by Orson Wells himself in the movie. He battles the system, but no matter what he does, K is unable to find out anything concerning his crime and more and more, his situation becomes hopeless.

K's crimes are never revealed, and neither is the motivation of why he is being pursued or the knowledge of what will happen to him. This makes the film very difficult to understand on a first viewing. There is a series of encounters and scenes that never make his situation any clearer to him.

Wells is definitely creative. He took a piece of German literature, by Kafka, and made it into an American cinema. The entire movie is very surrealistic in a way. K.'s character seems flat because he does not change much over his series of distressing encounters. There is occasional anger and mistrust of the world, but more real responses to his awful and accumulating experiences aren't there. In the end, it was out of curiosity rather than sympathy that I cared at all what happens to his character. Its two hour length seemed longer because it is chopped up into multiple episodes which often seem to be there to illustrate yet another point, without really moving the story ahead. Another thing is that you can never really tell how time works in the movie. After what seems like days in the movie, a woman named Hilda who worked for the lawyer talks about the speech he made last night after he got arrested yesterday. So, that causes the audience to realize that everything has happened in one day so far when it actually seemed much longer.

The film's greatest achievement overall is that it pulls us into a story that is just like a nightmare, and this is the best film of its kind that I have ever seen. There is a nightmarish sense of frustration throughout the movie. Although Joseph K. seems to get close at times, he's never able to get any answers that make sense. He's never able to face his accusers or even find out what crime he is charged with. Basically, K gets two choices. He can buy into the game and accept blame, or he can refuse to go along with the game and defy the system. Regardless of his choice, he can't win. That is another reason the whole movie is like a nightmare because K can never get out. K is always shown as very insignificant throughout the movie. For example, the mountain of typewriters at the office and the huge doors of the courts show his size doesn't matter.

Perkins did give a good performance in the film in my opinion. He is the glue of every scene and you wait to see his reaction to all the torment he goes through now that he is one of the accused. He seems to always have this nervous guilt, as though he knows somewhere in the depths of his soul that he is guilty of something, but the actual crime makes no difference, the important thing is always his guilt. Something I found interesting in the movie is that all the women of the movie are sex objects. Wells implies that whatever it is that K is guilty of has to do at least part with sex, especially because every scene with a woman turns sexual at some point. It's almost as if the women are a part of his trial, since all of them literally throw themselves at him at one point or another.

Anyways, I thought this was a good film, even though the end is very strange to me, with him wandering in and out of buildings when those buildings were never connected in the movie before. At the very end, K lets two men carry him away and it's almost as if he's given up and is just ready to accept whatever fate is coming to him. He definitely doesn't leave undefeated.
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Something of a trial to sit through
Martin Bradley3 April 2014
Orson Welles' film version of Kafka's "The Trial" is a perfectly fine 'visualization' of the book but it still doesn't work. Perhaps this was one book that should never have been filmed, not even by Welles, unless perhaps in animated form. Kafka's world, particularly the one in which Josef K finds himself, exists more in the reader's imagination rather than in any real tangible place and it's filled with characters who are never flesh-and-blood. The problem any film version has to overcome is how to translate than imaginary world and these characters into something that, at least, seems real and into something 'recognizable'. Welles doesn't do that; rather he transfers Kafka's text onto a series of Wellsian images and does it rather badly. It looks great, of course (DoP Edmond Richard) but the acting is very uneven, (it's another of Welles' 'international' projects with an international cast). Anthony Perkins makes Josef K a very fussy prima donna with whom we can have no sympathy; consequently his nightmare predicament never seems more than just a bad dream and the sooner he wakes from it the better for him and for us. Even Welles himself, playing the Advocate, can't lift the film while the dubbing of most of the cast and the post-synchronization is very poor.
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Overwhelmingly Confusing, But Magnificently Composed
Sean Lamberger23 August 2011
I found a lot to adore in "The Trial," but just as much to furrow my brow over. The cinematography is stunning; full of visual metaphor and gorgeous composition, it's an unyielding show of movie-making expertise. Welles plays up the bleak, "no tomorrow" nature of the exterior scenes, the structured chaos of the workplace and the hedonistic excess exhibited by the various stages of the trial itself, each to great effect. The story, though, feels too flighty and nebulous for my taste. It should come as no surprise, being a translation of a Kafka novel, that the entire picture often feels surreal and confusing. It continuously floats and sputters just beyond the grasp of understanding, like a moth delicately avoiding a set of flailing hands. The premise may have been established nicely during the slightly more straightforward opening scenes, but as the duration grows it becomes too ambitiously ambiguous for its own good.
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Kafka, Kubrick, Kant
tieman647 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"The Big Other does not exist" - Slavoj Zizek

Kafka's novels depict the phantasmatic unconscious world in which man experiences bureaucracy as all powerful, all knowing systems. Systems to which he is mercilessly subjected without reason, rhyme, or any prospect of escape save death.

"The Trial" is particularly relevant to analyses of Kubrick's "Shining" and "Eyes Wide Shut", all three films dealing with characters at the mercy of larger, seemingly impenetrable systems (Hitchcock's "The Wrong Man" pretends to be Kafka, but cops out).

In "The Trial", Joseph K entertains the vain "phantasy" that he might discover why he has been accused of a crime and what exactly his crime is. "What have I done and what should I do?" are the two elusive questions of "phantasy". But in discovering that The Big Other (bureaucracy, patriarchy, the symbolic order, etc) itself is lacking, and without the answer, man both gains something and loses something.

On the one hand, so long as K believes in the existence of The Other, he can believe in a fullness and completeness that someone else possesses and that he might obtain. In traversing his "phantasy", however, this belief collapses and he loses the prospect of attaining total fulfilment. In short, the collapse of The Other is accompanied by a collapse of identity.

On the other hand, in discovering that The Other does not exist, there is also a profound sense of relief. When you become aware that The Other does not want something specific, you are free to more directly pursue your own desires. You are free to focus on what little islands of happiness really are available, rather than pursuing a mythological complete happiness that doesn't exist. This awareness results in the disappearance of shame and anxiety. ie- there is no guilt, and thus no crime.

Kafka's "Trial" ends with K confused and escaping his guilt through death, whilst "Eyes Wide Shut" deals with reconciling guilt and accepting ones own subjective destitution, neither film possessing characters who learn that The Big Other does not exist, that there is no crime and thus no guilt. Rather, in both films, mysteries remain unsolved, truths remain hidden, characters remain guilty, identities remain blurred, despite our hardest attempts to resolve them. We're balls on a pool table, hungering for the master's God's eye view.

The lesson, which is what Welles teaches us in the "Parable of the Law" before his film, is that The Other (patriarchy, bureaucracy, the symbolic order, the man etc) possesses no control, no God's eye view. No men are admitted through the grand doors of the Law. The symbolic Big Other does not exist, which is why the doors disappear. In a 1965 interview, Welles even explained that his original design was to have ALL the film's sets gradually disappear, until only open space remained.

7.5/10 - Brilliant set design, noble ideas, but the film never fully clicked for me, Welles relying too heavily on dialogue. Polanski, Lynch and Kubrick capture Kafka better.

Note: IMDb does not recognise the word "phantasy" unless it is quoted.
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Not entirely Kafka
Alex Zambelli18 March 2000
I didn't enjoy Orson Welles' version of Kafka's novel as much as I wanted to. There are several reason for this.

I don't think Welles managed to translate the specific atmosphere of Kafka's novel onto the silver screen. Kafka's story is extremely surrealistic, but its whole beauty lies in the thin line between real life and dreamlike sequences. Kafka in his novel makes sure that the transitions are very smooth and that a reader cannot truly realize where this line is drawn. Welles, on the other hand, tries to recreate this by simply jumping from one chapter to another. The atmosphere that Welles creates is not anywhere close to the one that exists in the novel. The transitions between locations, relationships between characters and Joseph K.'s own interests are poorly interpreted and the final result is not surrealistic - it's just confusing.

I was disappointed to find out that Welles decided to replace 1920s Prague (Kafka's town) with 1960s socialistic Zagreb. "Herr K." is translated into "Mister K.", which just doesn't sound right. There's also a scene in the movie in which a computer is mentioned and displayed. Yes, all this has "bureaucracy" written all over it, but it's just too far away from Kafka. It's like that theory that if Shakespeare were alive in the 20th century, he'd be writing soap-operas. Yes, perhaps the spirit is preserved, but I'd still prefer to see "The Trial" placed into its proper time.

My other objections go to film editing and the screenplay. Welles had decided to simply jump from one important scene to the other, disregarding any transitions and the important time line. By just watching the movie it's very hard to figure out that K.'s trial lasts for exactly a year and begins and ends on his birthday. Welles makes it look like the trial lasts 3-4 days. This just doesn't make sense, especially in the scene in which K. dismisses his lawyer after what only seems like one visit which apparently took place only a few days before. Also, I didn't like the immediate transitions from the paintor scene into the cathedral scene which immediately lead to K.'s final battle with the law. This is all supposed to last several months, not 15 minutes.

I appreciated Orson Welles rewriting some of the scenes from the novel and adding his own material. The opening scene of the arrest is very well done, with Welles adding some funny and satirical dialogues between K. and the "police". However, I was rather disappointed to find the priest scene seriously cut, with the lawyer appearing in the church out of nowhere and delivering some conclusions. The priest scene is one of the most important scenes in the novel; it is crucial to leave it in its original form.

The cinematography is very well done, although I wish Welles had used more shots of old downtown Zagreb for his film. I was expecting to see something in the manner of Carol Reed's "Third Man" (shot in Vienna), but Welles insisted more on socialistic new buildings of Zagreb than on the beautiful (and certainly reminiscent of Prague) old buildings of downtown Zagreb.

I also sincerely recommend the 1993 version of "The Trial" with Kyle MacLachlan and Anthony Hopkins. MacLachlan does a much better job as Joseph K. than Anthony Perkins and that movie follows the story more closely than this one. Both films are absolutely worth seeing.
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Trial and Tribulation
kenjha16 March 2009
A clerk is arrested for a crime, but the police do not inform him of the charges. Welles brings his genius to the famous Kafka novel, but only proves that Kafka can't be filmed, as his novels rely too much on internal thought. After a drab and pointless prologue, the film proper starts and is initially amusing enough although the drab setting persists. The stark, cheap-looking sets are quite depressing. Given the premise of the story and the abstract ideas, perhaps this would have worked as a short film or TV show, but at two hours, it severely overstays its welcome. Adding to the absurdity, Perkins' manner of speech weirdly recalls Woody Allen.
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Brilliant Photography
birdland0818 December 2002
Despite the fact that Welles is best remembered for the film ranked first by the AFI among the films of the Twentieth Century, Citizen Kane, Welles considered The Trial his finest work. In my mind, it is the most beautifully photographed film ever made in black and white, and its sense of composition is that of an artist. The settings are dark and mysterious, and a sense that humanity has been shunted to the margins of a dark industrial order is beautifully conveyed.

I'm told that younger people who did not grow up with black and white TV or with black and white movies automatically tune out pieces that are not in color. That is a shame, as there are films that are better made in black and white, and expressions of time and mood that cannot be made as well in color. Welles never really got the chance to make the transition to color that Kubrick made as well as any American director. Perhaps he would have found expressive use of color as well as Kubrick did, but certainly neither this film nor Citizen Kane could be made in color.

The brilliance of its artistry aside, the film will not appeal to everyone because of the deliberate opaqueness of the plot, and because of its lack of optimism. I like Kafka's story, and I like the movie very well, but it is more art than diversionary entertainment, and some might prefer a good action flick or a romantic comedy.
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SnoopyStyle29 March 2014
Josef K (Anthony Perkins) wakes up one morning and finds the police in his room. They question him as people from the office searches through his stuff. The proper but unhelpful police won't tell him anything about his case. Everything he says is taken out of context. Eventually there is a trial where nothing is truly explained.

Director Orson Welles is putting some of his skills into bringing this Franz Kafka tale onto the big screen. It's a stripped down narrative with some very long stationary uncut scenes and some wildly unconventional visuals. The elderly neighbor Burstner tells him that he's being investigated for something very abstract. That's how the whole movie feels. It's very abstract. It's very strange. It's very artsy. The dubbing also lends a very surreal feel. It makes for a very odd viewing experience and not a particularly compelling one. Anthony Perkins shows his vast acting skills, but this is no popcorn movie. The copy I saw wasn't terribly sharp. It's definitely not for the casual movie goer.
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An Orwellian Nightmare
OttoVonB17 August 2006
Joseph K. awakes one morning to find the police in his apartment. He is accused and is to be tried. For what offense he knows not. He stumbles across a nightmarish landscape of judicial limbo and cynical survivors, demanding justice...

When one thinks about it carefully, one can only conclude that Orson Welles, more than anyone, was the ideal candidate to adapt Kafka's story. It possesses all his trademarks: nightmarish ambiance, a manipulative power figure (the Advocate, played by Welles himself) and a parade of disconcerting characters that, though absurd, are very telling parables for the human race's shortcomings. Opening with a stunningly drawn introduction, the film truly begins with K. awakening in his bed. It is then a cascade of either virtuoso long takes (with the camera gliding with bewildering grace) and ingenious editing. The camera always conveys a sense of unease and its combination with the Soviet style sets and oppressive geometry further enhance the aura of paranoia.

Of the cast, Anthony Perkins perfectly plays the role of the bewildered accused. He receives solid help from Jeanne Moreau, Max Haufler, Romi Schneider (wonderfully sensual and unhinged), Akim Tamiroff (Joe Grande from "Touch of Evil" and Jackob Zook from "Mr. Arkadin", always a joy to see) and, especially as always, Welles himself. Some may object to the transposition of Kafka's novel to more modern times, but one can not deny that the spirit is perfectly captured. Welles could trick you into believing that The Trial is a story of his invention, but that it is also his most personal film to date. Welles called this film his best to date, perhaps because it was his first completely controlled film in a long time. It is one of his best, however, ranking up there with Chimes at Midnight, Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil and Mr. Arkadin.

One of the best films of all time and certainly one of the most atmospheric.
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Expressionistic, with existential, near dead-pan surrealism- an extraordinary story-telling/directorial experience
MisterWhiplash30 June 2004
The word "Kafka-esque" is now a house-hold name. When people hear it, they think of a situation or a person who has, basically, a cruel prank thrust upon them (aside from the Trial, his story of a worker up against a labyrinth legal system, The Metamorphosis had his protagonist turned into a cockroach as if it was his fault). As well, in particularly with the Trial, there is a sense of (obviously) paranoia, words spoken unintentionally but taken seriously, and many situations, locations, and minor characters that are of a dream-like state. Orson Welles, with Kafka's story, does everything for effect, creating and maintaining an atmosphere that he honed after years of film-noirs. The mis-en-scene is always with a purpose to get the viewer into the tension and on-going confusion (which is with the lead, Mr. Joseph K played by Anthony Perkins), and the end result of Welles' directorial stamp on the work is that of something like a psychological horror film.

With the long takes, the usage of darkness and lights, the indoor and outdoor locations, and deep focus, the look of the film, it could be argued, tops the story in some parts. K is just a worker, an assistant of sorts in some kind of futuristic (or past or present, the time and place is left vague and it doesn't hurt the film) city. As he is under arrest, he tries to fight his case, as he's never been told why he was arrested. The people he meets, the law, aren't much help, as they act logically, but only logically in the dream-like state. As Perkins' K needs legal assistance, his uncle Max introduces him to the Advocate (Welles himself), who is a subtle, frightening presence with a control over his clients. As K wonders what he'll do, the story starts to spiral into running from children, going from one place seamlessly into another, until he is blended into this world of the abstract.

The acting is what would separate The Trial from being a weird, experimental (though to a degree the technical side of the film is a little experimental) landscape. Perkins creates a performance that gets us to believe in him, to find him as being a sympathetic (and, for at least a few of us in movie-viewing land, empathetic) persona. All of his little flubs and little moments of nervousness add to the believability. And in truth we've all been in this sort of situation K's been in, or at least known someone like this, not knowing what it is as the charge, but feeling a subliminal guilt without reason. Perkins captures all of the emotions, and finds that line where he doesn't go into nervous, black comedy, and his plight becomes more tragic as we get sucked into this nightmare society. There are also memorable side-bar performances by Jeanne Moreau, Madeline Robinson, Max Haufler, Akim Tamiroff (who also made an impression in his bit in Alphaville), and William Chappell. Welles, by the way, dubs in many of the voices, and in a sense this is like his greatest visual translation of something he might have done (though it's moot as of now) on the radio. In fact, the use of sound is practically as impressive as the visual style.

And what style there is in The Trial. This is the kind of film to be watched in its digital transfer on widescreen DVD, or projected in a theater. There is a consistently darkened tone to most scenes (especially in the last hour or so, for example in K's running in the sewer), and then light rushes in as something of a Welles' trademark. It could be said that Welles', not Perkins, is the true star of the film, by being the (almost) overwhelming presence he is in every frame. Due credit is as well to Edmund Richard (amazingly his first film, and he would go on to work on Bunuel's 70's surreal efforts), but it is arguable that Welles' was at a peak as a director. The best thing that can be said about The Trial is that for today's audiences, those who won't understand the path the story takes in the first viewing, will surely be intrigued enough by the editing style, the faces, the photography, and the ideas that do come through. Two sequences alone- the first part of K in the trial room with the audience present, and a visit to a painter surrounded by little girls- can be counted as some of Welles' finest work.

There's an underlying existential theme (K's on and off time with his sense of free will, his sense of isolation, and the Advocate's last dialog with K proves this) that works alongside with the surreal nature of the picture. By the end of the film, which ends on a note that will baffle some, anger others (perhaps by it not following the book), and bring on a catharsis that can barely be explained, it's at least clear the effect Welles' and his lead have put on is a pure, unique cross-breed of Kafka's tale of maddening persecution. And it does, as with Welles' more famous works like Touch of Evil and Citizen Kane, demands to be seen two, three, ten more times. A+
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Best adaptation possible...
Henry Fields5 June 2006
Orson Welles made the best adaptation that was possible of Kafka's masterpiece. I say "possible" because "The trial" is a novel that's so abstract, full of metaphors, double meanings and oniric contents. To adapt that for the big screen is pretty complicated; nevertheless, Welles relied on his own genius and told us his way this spit in the face of the System, the Justice, the Bureaucracy and the most despicable creatures in this world: lawyers. The restlessness of Anthony Perkins' performance is pretty much alike what Kafka tried to show us through the character of Joseph K. Also I have to remark the genius of Welles behind the cameras, the photography (the lights and the shadows), those long shots...

"The trial" will never be a best seller in Blockbuster, and if you're looking for fun or escape, you'd better choose any other title. On the contrary, if you're not only interested in explosions and special effects, if you like good and meaningful cinema, check this one out.

*My rate: 8/10
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An absolute masterpiece of B&W cinematography!
aayoung4 May 2002
If Kafka wrote a nightmare scenario, Orson Welles followed his cues to perfection in creating a series of nightmare scenes, growing incessantly from the extremely banal to the increasingly disturbing. But drama aside, the movie is a visual masterpiece. The sets are stunning --even the seeming ordinary such as warehouses and hallways are transformed by the way they are shot. Lighting is used to maximum impact, while every shot, every camera angle is a memorable work of art. Never has black-and-white film been used to better effect. Every lover of classic cinematic art should have this film.
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nfilipchik23 July 2001
None of the movies I've ever seen impressed me that much.Anyone who loves Kafka will love the film for sure.Orson Welles made the nightmarish Kafka's reality to come so close that it gives you creeps.The movie is not basicly about the horror of totalitarismus.The key subject is loneliness,social industice that the main character can't fight, his struggle is futile.He can't beat the bloody system since he's its flesh and blood.He, like many of us,lives in the world of spiritual insecurity.Most brilliant performance by Anthony Perkins who had been the outstanding outsider,underappreciated by the blind Holliwood.The Trial is a piece of art that is worth a couple of hours watching.
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A man's struggle against the system
rogierr5 June 2001
If you think Orson Welles did his best work during his American period: see 'the Trial' (1963) and think again. Indeed it's in English, but it's a very international production by an international crew French, German, Italian and American crew (original title: le Proces) and a fantastic international cast: seductively beautiful women and embarrassing authority-sensitive men.

7.7 (IMDb) and still undervalued... I hoped this would not be some sort of endless courtroom thriller. It's not. It is what you make of it: it can be a haunting nightmare or moral terror or unexpected romance. You could be entertained by the cinematography (Edmond Richard) alone. It's probably the only crime-film in which no crime is ever committed, except moral ones. This instantly became my favorite film of Welles. He made no compromises here: every aspect of this film enhances the other. This is said to be his only film that didn't get spiced n' sliced by commercial villains.

I'd like to compare 'the Trial' with 'Catch-22'. Two of my 10 all-time favorite films. Could the advocate have reincarnated into Catch-22's (1970) general Dreedle (Welles himself) :-) ? Could Joseph K have reincarnated into Catch-22's chaplain Tappman (Anthony Perkins) or even Yossarian? Some of the sophistry is frightening comparable. Is it a coincidence that Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22 was first published in 1962? Another one of my favorites is Brazil (1985, Gilliam). There you have it: the little man's struggle against the (totalitarian) system seems to be the common factor. Joseph K seems to live in a totally separate world: is he the dissident or are all the others? The similarities of 'Joseph K' and Franz (Joseph) Kafka are obvious.

This is the best b/w cinematography I've ever seen I'm just wondering how much Welles had to do with that ... but then again, who doesn't wonder about that with any of Welles' films? Surrealistic and tense, but then again so is most of Kafka's (1883-1924) work. Richard and Welles would make 'Chimes at midnight' two years later (also with Jeanne Moreau).

Please take a close look at the mirror scene with Romy Schneider @55 min and the claustrophobic chasing scene @106 min. This is the brilliant and haunting photography that stays with you forever. If you're looking for comparable cinematography (camera-angles, composition, contrast, desolate architexture, lighting and perspective): see 'a Touch of evil' (1958), 'the Third man' (1949) and 'Citizen Kane' (1941). BTW: Albinoni's tragic adagio was among other films also used in Gallipoli (1981, Peter Weir).

Why o why can't we vote 11 :(
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