The film begins with Welles narrating Kafka’s parable “Before the Law” to pinscreen scenes created by the artist Alexandre Alexeieff. Anthony Perkins stars as Josef K., a bureaucrat who is accused of a never-specified crime, and Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, and Elsa Martinelli play women who become involved in various ways in Josef’s trial and life. Welles plays the Advocate, Josef’s lawyer and the film’s principal antagonist.
Josef K. (Anthony Perkins) is sleeping. He is awakened when a man in a suit opens his bedroom door. Josef assumes the glib man is a policeman, but the intruder does not identify himself. Several detectives enter and tell Josef he is under open arrest. In another room Josef K. sees three co-workers from his place of employment; they are there to provide evidence regarding some unstated crime. The police do not take him into custody.
In order to ascertain what he has been accused of, and to protest his innocence, Josef attempts to look beyond the facade of the judicial system, in this Kafkaesque nightmare.