Friday, February 15, 2013

Oscars 2013: Anna Karenina

Keira Knightly as Anna
Anna Karenina (U.K., 2012) directed by Joe Wright,
Nominated for Four Oscars
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Music (Original Score)
Best Production Design

Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) as the director: good. Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Real Thing, Shakespeare in Love) as the screenwriter: even better!

Comparing a film based on the classic Tolstoy novel is, of course, monumentally unfair. However, there is nothing to be done about it – the comparison will be made regardless. Need we review the plot? If you are reading this blog post I think it is likely that you are well versed in the plot details and my obsession with Tolstoy's novel.

The new, the intriguing aspects of the film: the story is presented as if done on stage, this is difficult to describe and must be seen. There is an element of theatricality, of unreality, to the film that is rather beautiful. The scenery and costuming are gorgeous, sumptuous, exquisite. Every production detail is lovingly and beautifully done. Certain scenes resemble balletic dances with odd, yet lovely, movements as the characters segue into the next scene. The reasoning behind this is unclear to me - is it merely the old Brechtian artistic vision on Epic Theatre that "the audience always be aware that it is watching a play"?

The story moves swiftly from Anna and Vronsky’s illicit romance to a much more subordinate subplot involving the relationship between Kitty and Levin. This is not true to the novel, where the latter’s relationship is at least as important as the former’s. The Kitty/Levin relationship is given short shrift here – nearly all of the tension regarding Levin’s animosity towards Vronsky, as Kitty’s previous suitor, and Kitty’s anger towards Anna is absent. 

But on to the more problematic aspects of the film: Keira Knightly (as Anna) and AaronTaylor-Johnson (as Vronsky) are, I feel, inappropriately cast. Both are too youthful. Knightly lacks Anna’s soulfulness and sense of anguish, not to mention lacking her mature beauty. It’s difficult to see her as the emotionally complex Anna who is torn between her love for Vronsky and her love for her son Seryohza. Taylor-Johnson presents as far too young for Vronsky – although handsome in aspect he lacks in sexual appeal for me as a film goer. His performance is sometimes petulant, unappealing and it remains a mystery to the filmgoer why Anna would destroy herself over this puppy.

Knightly, half dressed and walking in a daze, hardly convinces one of her emotional deterioration and mental instability. Jealousy, recrimination and paranoia was a slow poison that invaded Anna’s spirit – that is not communicated here because we move so quickly in the film from Anna's initial unhappiness with Vronsky to her suicide.

The one bright spot is the casting of Jude Law as Karenin, Anna’s husband. In a lovely twist, Taylor-Johnson actually looks remarkably like a younger version of Law – prettier and shinier, but very close in resemblance. Law's performance is restrained, suggesting both inner turmoil and supreme self-control over one’s emotions – exactly as one imagines Karenin to be.

The length of the novel, which exceeds 800 pages, necessitates a certain economy in 129 minutes of film; however, the film feels truncated and emotionally unfulfilling, virtually eradicating the last third of the novel. When the tragic denouement comes, it is quick and lacking the tragic punch of the book. The most horrific aspect of Anna’s death is her last minute confusion as she lies fallen on the tracks and her intense desire not to die when she realizes what she has done.

Still there are enormous expectations to fill with this film and it is valiant of Wright and Stoppard to try. 
Jude Law as Karenin

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