Orson Welles in a BBC interview declared his adaptation of Kafka’s novel The Trial to be his best film, contradicting the near unanimous lauding of his debut film Citizen Kane. Welles’ appraisal may prove to be most accurate as The Trial is not only an excellent adaptation, it is also an intricately crafted gallery of fear, suspicion, and paranoia. The mood leaks from the screen like a fog when it isn’t blasting with the bombast of a spotlight. Anthony Perkins of Psycho plays Joseph K.; a man who wakes up one morning to find his privacy invaded by a stubborn and condemnatory police officer. Joseph nervously attempts to find out why he is under investigation, but almost every word he speaks is harshly misinterpreted by the officer. The only answer Joseph can get is that he is accused. The film then follows Joseph’s hopeless journey to find out why he has been accused. The more he investigates, the more the legal system is revealed to be an absurd nightmare.
Welles’ mastery of the cinematic medium is fully expressed as the film pendulums between nervous silence to cacophonous overstimulation. Expertly disorienting camera angles lead Joseph through vast buildings of industrial emptiness only to freeze on the pitiful crowds of the accused or the trench-coat-bulked figures of the law. I have not been so uncomfortably disoriented since the shaky-cam antics of Lars Von Trier in his film Melancholia. The Trial is a film one enters into. It is a place.
Thankful as I am that there is a copy in the Regent Library, I do have a gripe. The audio quality of the copy is low. The poorly made options menu leads me to suspect that the copy is a cheaper one and that there is possibly a restored/ remastered version available. While the bad audio does cooperate with the disorienting nature of the film, I worry that it is unintentionally abrasive. In certain scenes characters are borderline unintelligible. Akim Tamiroff’s lines as Rudi Block are difficult to understand due to the bad audio. Complaints of audio quality aside, the film is a masterwork which appeals to fans of the original work and those in search of dark, absurdist films.