RusFilm-2003 Program Notes

Trial of the Insane
[Суд сумасшедших]

Soviet Union, Mosfilm, 1961. 119 minutes. Color.
Directed: Grigorii Roshal'
Screenplay: Grigorii Roshal'
Camera: Leonid Kosmatov, Boris Aretskii
Sound: Lev Trakhtenberg
Art Direction: Iosif Shpinel'
With Vasilii Livanov, Irina Skobtseva, Viktor Khokhriakov, Vladimir Belokurov, and Vladimir Emel'ianov

Trial of the Insane belongs to the category of "moral issue" film, a category that was highly popular among cultural producers and administrators during the Thaw period. Many of these works (the first rise of "publicistic" prose and cinema) are based on topical events – in this case the fascist resurgence in Germany spurred by the American military industrial complex – that are recast as a set of ethical choices, allowing for the unmediated opposition of a morally (socialist) guided "us" with an immorally (capitalist) directed "other."

Johannes Werner, a brilliant young scientist who has discovered a source of life-enhancing beams of light, flees fascist Germany when the Nazis try to seize his laboratory. After a few years in Paris, he again flees the Nazis and moves to America, where he changes his name to Martino. His work in the US quickly brings him international recognition, fame, and a potential fortune from the military-industrial complex, which has discovered ways of converting his beams of light into a deadly weapon. Werner's attempt to expose the military-industrial complex and its representative Gruber, a former Nazi "brown shirt," at a scientific conference leads to his being declared insane and hospitalized.

After he wins his freedom, Werner confronts Gruber who tries to shoot him, but accidentally kills Scott, an American journalist. As the leaders of the military-industrial complex celebrate after Gruber is acquitted of Scott's murder, Werner proclaims all of Western society insane.

The film's complicated fracturing of time (with recurring flashbacks and fantasy sequences often bearing different spatial markers) is paralleled by Grigorii Roshal''s frequent fragmenting (into thirds, sixths) and layering (superimposition) of the wide-screen. This play with narrative time and the space of the screen, however, is executed so ploddingly that it merely enhances the earnestness of the film's moralistic homilies.

Grigorii Roshal'

director photo

Grigorii Roshal' (1898-1983) organized and directed theatrical shows for children during the Civil War. By 1921 he was the chairman of the Artistic Council of the Main Directorate for the Social Welfare of Children in the Commissariat of Enlightenment. At the sane time he was studying in Vsevolod Meierhol'd's master class for theatrical directors. Began directing films in 1926. Taught for many years at the State Institute for Filmmaking (Moscow).

1926 The Skotinin Household
1927 His Highness
1928 Salamandra
1930 The Man from the Settlement
1930 Two Women
1934 A Petersburg Night
1936 The Dawns of Paris
1938 The Oppenheim Family
1939 In Search of Happiness
1941 The Armatonov Affair
1942 The Batyrs of the Steppes
1949 Academician Ivan Pavlov
1950 Musorgskii
1952 Rimskii-Korsakov
1955 Outlaws
1957 Stations of the Cross: Sisters
1958 Stations of the Cross: The Year 1918
1959 Stations of the Cross: The Gloomy Morning
1961 Trial of the Insane
1965 A Year Like a Life
1967 They Live Nearby