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Monday, June 01, 2015

The Trial (1962)

Well, I've certainly learned what an Orson Welles picture looks like. The Trial, made in 1962, is yet another use of light and shadow, influenced even more obviously by German expressionism. Some say Citizen Kane was the first noir film, and there's something to that--Welles continuously made films that looked like noir, even if the plots didn't jibe with the genre.

This film is an adaptation of Frank Kafka's totalitarian nightmare. Josef K. (Anthony Perkins), a white-collar worker, awakens one morning to find two men in his room. He assumes they are policemen, and they tell him he is under arrest, although they don't know the charge (we never do find out). This scene is very typical of Welles, as the ceiling is visible and barely much higher than the men, giving the whole thing a claustrophobic feel. (The policemen also watch Perkins get dressed).

They let Perkins free, though, telling him to come to court. He meets with his co-lodger, Jeanne Moreau, and impulsively kisses her. Next thing he knows she's moving out (in a scene reminiscent of one in Touch of Evil, there is a long continuous tracking shot of him following her friend, lugging a trunk). He goes to court, and reads a litany of protestations, but nothing comes of it.

His uncle, concerned about the family name, brings him to the home of a famous lawyer, or advocate (Welles himself). He is told there is little to be done, and that Welles is very sick. He has a nurse (Romy Schneider) who seduces Perkins. Later, Welles will tell him that she is attracted to the accused.

In another weird scene, he goes to meet a painter, who lives in what looks like an apartment made out of slats, with teenage-girl admirers peering in. He tells Perkins that no one is acquitted; that is, if one is acquitted, one is simply re-arrested over and over again.

This is a great example of paranoid cinema, or I guess paranoia isn't the right word, because they are out to get Perkins, but for no particular reason. By the end of the film, when he is taken away by two more men in trench coats and dumped in a rock quarry, you'll feel totally out of kilter with the world. Kafka was writing in Prague, but this movie is set in no particular place, and could be anywhere--even here. The film has the feeling of a dream, especially the scene with the painter, but there's also a sense of reality, as in anything can happen when the government is crazy.

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