The Trial

Director: Orson Welles
Year Released: 1962
Rating: 4.0

Kafka has always been one of my favorite literary heroes: he was young, quiet, tragic, educated and obsessed with being swallowed up by a world in which logic is questionable and society is morbidly oppressive. His surrealist/existentialist novels, albeit difficult and challenging (and all the more so to film), add uncharted depth to the realm of human thought and the cauldron of human fear. You may wake up one day and be a bug, you may wake up one day and be convicted of a mysterious crime you start off by thinking you didn't do, but as forces build up against you, guilt increases, and you start to think: maybe I did do something wrong. I'm not sure if Franz ever smoked marijuana, or engulfed an exorbitant amount of pills, but this is prime paranoia, folks: everyone is out to get you and your mind is an alien entity, betraying you at every turn. It is key to understand the basic dream-like concepts of the author before you step into Welles' film of The Trial, which is one of the most beautiful and disturbing films he ever set out to make. He's mostly successful: the settings are exact (and are most likely inspiration for Gilliam and Stoppard's Brazil, filmed in the 80's), the mood is perfect and the aura of Kafka is done as well as you'd expect it to be done. The fact that Welles can drag you along on this journey, which doesn't make an ounce of sense, and keep you enthralled, is something of a cinematic miracle. He takes a few missteps along the way - sometimes Anthony Perkins (who plays Josef K.) overacts a little too much, coming across as more jittery and rambling than he needs to be; sometimes the novel's sudden left-turns leave you too distracted to enjoy the surreal logic and cause you to become frustrated (I personally hate being "lost" while watching a film - I want to know what is going on at all times else I grow irritable quickly) - but for the most part it's fluid and visually remarkable. Chris Marker's profound La Jetee, also filmed in 1962, has the same "feel" - the two would make a great double-bill. For my money, it's better than The Lady From Shanghai.