Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Trial, The

Two movies have been based on Der Prozess (1925; trans as The Trial 1937 UK) by Franz Kafka.

1. The Trial (ot Le Procès) French/West German/Italian movie (1962). Paris Europa/Hisa/FI.C.IT. Pr Alexander Salkind. Exec pr Michael Salkind. Dir Orson Welles. Screenplay Welles. Starring Suzanne Flon (Miss Pittl), Arnoldo Foa (Inspector A), Elsa Martinelli (Hilda), Jeanne Moreau (Marika Bürstner), Anthony Perkins (Josef K), Romy Schneider (Leni), Akim Tamiroff (Bloch), Welles (Advocate Hastler). 118 mins. B/w.

It was probably a mistake to try to translate Kafka's novel, most of whose "events" occur inside K's head, to the screen, where it would be judged as a version rather than as an independent movie. Welles sets out his stall almost at the start: after a spoken prologue (illustrated by scenes on pin-screen) telling the Fable of the man who waits at the gate of justice, Welles announces that the novel is generally considered a Dream or a nightmare; and it is in the form of an anxiety dream that the movie is couched. The plot is familiar: K wakes to find himself under arrest; he is subjected to a long series of Picaresque experiences and never does find out what he has been arrested for. The movie identifies clearly the legal system with the laws of God. Man's representative to God is incarnate (like Christ) in the person of K's supposed attorney, the bedridden Advocate Hastler who seems never to do anything but – like a dead Messiah – insists on being worshipped even when idle, absent, arbitrary or imbecile; the painter Titorelli, portraitist to the judges and therefore claimant of considerable influence over them, is in effect the gallery of saints, who promise much by way of intercession but, when the small print of their promises is read, can deliver little if anything. Like God's laws, those of K's country are never explained, and are probably inexplicable: this is the reason for the unstoppable trial's (i.e., life's) unfairness. Yet the movie to an extent undermines its own Satire by being so surreally dreamlike: within the Edifice that is the Hall of Justice abide almost all the other locales in which the various scenes are set – notably the vast office where K works (its tracts of synchronized typists reminiscent of scenes in Fritz Lang's Metropolis [1926]) and Hastler's littered, semi-devastated, mansion-grand home. As in any edifice, corridors may not lead to the same place twice. The parallel with Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is recognized implicitly throughout, being made explicit in a brief sequence where a court guard emulates the White Rabbit.

A separate strand of the dream is distressingly misogynistic. Repeatedly K finds himself the focus of the erotic attentions (never, for one reason or another, consummated) of alluring women – in particular Leni, Hastler's nurse/mistress (who can be identified as the Church). These women are depicted as in some way debased: Miss Burstner, K's long-time neighbour, is an "exotic dancer"; K is only the latest in a long line of men seduced (or in his case near-seduced) by Leni, who preys sexually on arrested men, like a spiritual Vampire. This strand peaks with K being pursued through catacombs by a horde of rapacious schoolgirls.

Visually TT is superb, with exquisite use of scale and shadow; the medium of b/w is exploited to the full. There are some stunning pieces of conceptualization, and the mood of the movie is hard to shake off. [JG]

2. The Trial UK/Czech movie (1992 tvm, also released theatrically). BBC/Europanda. Pr Louis Marks. Exec pr Reniero Compostella, Kobi Jaeger, Mark Shivas. Dir David Jones. Screenplay Harold Pinter. Starring Douglas Hodge (Inspector), Anthony Hopkins (The Priest), Michael Kitchen (Block), Kyle MacLachlan (Josef K), Alfred Molina (Titorelli), Catherine Neilson (Washer Woman), Jason Robards (Dr Huld), Juliet Stevenson (Fräulein Bürstner), Polly Walker (Leni). 120 mins. Colour.

This more literal version has little to add to 1: it is less surreal, less melodramatic and less visually exciting; at the same time, because more tied to mundane (not dream) Reality (partly through being more specific about extraneous details; e.g., K's crime is at least partly detailed to him), because the Allegory is brought closer to the surface, and because its target appears to be more the interpreters of God than God Himself, it is a more comprehensible movie – and better as entertainment. Yet it does not live in the memory as 1 does – likely because it has forfeited the sense that K is the plaything of and throughout manipulated by unseen forces that are almost certainly by definition impossible to understand. This is palatable Kafka. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.