It may not be 100 percent Kafka but Orson Welles’ The Trial is a startling cinematic equivalent of the author’s surreal vision. Twenty-one years after Citizen Kane, Welles overrode an opaque plot with riveting visual devices — liquid tracking shots, unusual lighting — that create a visceral sense of absurdity and paranoia.
Dismissed as overblown by some critics at the time of its release, the film has been available only on washed-out video transfers that compounded its bad rep. But this gorgeous laser-only edition, which includes a Welles-directed preview and an alternate version of the prologue, makes the case for The Trial as, if not — as Welles once deemed it — his best film, certainly worthy of an acquittal. For the first time, one can see what Welles was up to as he shot (because there were no funds for sets) in Paris’ then-decrepit Gare d’Orsay train station. Creeping about in its cavernous spaces is an eccentric cast that includes Anthony Perkins as the unfortunate Joseph K, a clerk accused of a never-explained crime, a luminous Romy Schneider as a seductress, and Welles himself, commanding as The Advocate, a role he wanted Jackie Gleason to play. And, performing his own Kafkaesque tricks, Welles dubbed 11 other voices, including bits of Perkins’ dialogue. B+