Le procès

Le procès

An unassuming office worker is arrested and stands trial, but he is never made aware of his charges.


“Transcending mere reflections of personal anxiety, however, Kafka’s expressionism is more properly ‘sociological’, focusing on the confounding structures of post-bureaucratic life. The Trial in particular ‘expresses’ not the expressionism familiar from Weimar Caligarism, but the alienating social structures described by Max Weber’s Economy and Society, which envisaged a bureaucratic language so secretive that it becomes impenetrable not merely to laymen but to the bureaucrats’ own superiors, thereby inhibiting centralized control and facilitating the bureaucrats’ corrupted autonomy.

It is thus to Welles’ eternal credit that he is one of the few filmmakers – perhaps the only one – who actually got Kafka right. Welles’ insights into Kafka’s sociology, beginning with his correct interpretation of the arrogant character of Joseph K., often get lost in The Trial’s striking visuality, Welles’ own discouragement of ‘pretentious’ intellectual analysis, and the distraction of Welles’ celebrity. Welles rightly sees K. not as a sheepish victim but as complicit in his own convoluted fate, rendering the film not a stylized victimology (as are so many film adaptations of Kafka) but a study in the individual’s unwitting participation in his own destruction.


This self-alienated, self-sickening world is very much reflected in Welles’ vision. Placing K. in alternately monumental and claustrophobic sets, Welles shrinks and constricts his hero and, consistent with Kafka’s text, literally nauseates him, as K. repeatedly gasps for air in the bureaucracy’s breathless attics and misplaced offices. As in Kafka, the geography of the bureaucracy is stochastic: the harshly lit spaces in which K. loses himself are at once randomly placed and the predictable arrangements of an irrational, circuitous system. The secretive closet in which a leather-clad sadist whips corrupt officials just happens to be located in K.’s office building – because it was K. who lodged the complaint against them.


Welles’ two key moments of wordplay, not in Kafka, are revealing. In the first, K., momentarily confused by the thugs’ doubletalk, says ‘pornograph’ instead of phonograph, foreshadowing the primitive lasciviousness K. discovers among mid-level officials who kidnap young girls and judges who secret erotic photos in the leaves of law books. In the second instance, K. debates the bumbling agents’ use of the term ‘ovular’ (as opposed to “oval”), which K. insists is not an actual word. On the apparent level, K.’s argument with the thugs is a linguistic farce that reveals the bureaucracy’s reduction of language to Ionescoan nonsense, unconnected to reality.”

Andrew Grossman1


“An individual sitting in a seat, in a hall. Multiply him by quite a few millions and what do you get more than the same spectator in the plural? Unconscious of his statistical importance his dreams depend obstinately on the old human scale. No super-screen will make him a superman. He is no giant, he is only numerous.

But already he is less than this; he gets smaller every day.

Who can say that it’s an accident that the public is dwindling away as the importance of the artist is destroyed? Are giant screens a symptom or a cause?

Let us joyfully admit that there will always be a place for the circus. But let us also insist that room will always be found for whatever clowning may be foisted on us. What perverse, morbid desire delivers our world cinema to an era of nickelodeons?”

Orson Welles2

  • 1Andrew Grossman, “Orson Welles’ The Trial Is a Study in Transcendental Sociology,” PopMatters, 2013.
  • 2Orson Welles, “Ribbon of Dreams,” Sabzian, 1958 (2015).


“Neem een individuele toeschouwer op een enkel zitje in een zaal. Vermenigvuldig hem met een paar miljoen en wat krijg je? Slechts diezelfde toeschouwer in veelvoud. Onbewust van zijn belang voor de statistieken, hangen zijn dromen hardnekkig af van de klassieke mensenmaat. Geen enkel superscherm zal hem tot superman maken. Hij is geen reus, hij is alleen talrijk.

Maar nu al is hij minder dan dit; hij wordt met de dag kleiner.

Wie kan nog volhouden dat het toeval is dat het publiek wegslinkt, nu het belang van de artiest wordt tenietgedaan? Zijn de gigantische schermen een symptoom of een oorzaak?

Laat ons vreugdevol toegeven dat er voor het circus altijd een plaats zal zijn. Maar laat ons ook beseffen dat men altijd een podium zal vinden voor elke onzinnigheid die men ons probeert aan te smeren. Welk pervers, morbide verlangen levert onze grootse cinema uit aan een tijdperk van nickelodeons?”

Orson Welles1

Palace, Brussels