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So, it is out the film that so far has divided the opinions of the
critics and audiences alike. A lot has been said about its theatrics
and casting, visual effects and costumes. The trailer alone made me go
to see it the first day it was released in London. Despite the
misgivings about the casting of the main characters, I was hoping that
the opulence of the setting, decorations and costumes would be just
enough to make it enjoyable and compensate for any acting mishaps.
The film focuses is on the key relationships in the novel taking the bare carcass of the storyline. The result is a mechanical sequence of events, devoid of any depth and humanity and almost clinically cold. Many nuances of the relationships are not explained at all and, had I not read the book many times over, these would have been lost on me. All of the socio-political and ideological issues affecting Russia in the late 19th century, as well as the questions of humanity, faith, religion and the meaning of life, are largely left out. Not only this accentuates the oddly flat quality of the scenario but also, owing to the lack of context, makes certain scenes (e.g. Levin in the country) look oddly standalone.
As to the casting... Keira Knightley can be a delight to watch in the right context, i.e. when she can get away with being herself on screen (e.g. "Bend it like Beckham" and "Love actually"). However in the costume/period dramas she makes no allowances for the differences in social behaviours and mannerisms and ends up looking like a flirtatious modern girl at a fancy dress party. In the book Karenina's character is a sophisticated, mature, confident and sensuous woman of high society and rank but also a deeply kind, humane and down to earth person. It is the latter qualities that endear her so much to the fellow book characters and readers alike from the beginning and help us feel the tragedy of her situation so keenly later. Knightley's Karenina is an all-too-young, flighty coquette with no obvious emotional maturity and little sense of decorum gradually developing hysteria which left me torn between incredulity and laughter. I wouldn't normally comment on the physical appearance which should be incidental to a true acting talent but modest chest and bony back sticking out of the impossibly low-cut dress (for the 19th century) add little to the believability of the character. Vronsky, with those blue eyes, blond locks, stiff movements and bland facial expressions reminds more of a china doll than a dark, handsome, charming and intense character that Karenina falls for. Would she fall for this version of Vronsky? Doubt it and neither did I. As for the rest of the cast, the only characters that look vaguely believable (and that taken in the context of the rest of the cast) are those of Kitty and Dolly. Ironically Kitty becomes more so towards the end of the film, when Dolly loses it entirely owing to the dialogue with Karenina at the tea room.
Lastly I would like to touch upon a few details of costumes and styling which I find worth of note. I wish the costume designer incorporated the Russian fashions of the 19th century more faithfully. The façons presented with the backs cut out almost to the waist did not become fashionable (in fact, socially acceptable) until the 20th century. During the time portrayed in the film/novel they would have been scandalous. Lavish jewellery was, indeed, in vogue (although it is the understated elegance of choice so meticulously highlighted in the book that would have been true to Karenina's character). What Karenina wears in this film is unmistakably Chanel 21st century and bears no resemblance to the style or make of the time. I guess one comes to expect at least some product placements as part of the modern film industry and, in the absence of cars/phones/laptops etc in this film, one had to make the best out of what was available. Add to this aristocrats dressed like peasants (Karening in the ice-skating scene), rich landowner styled like a monk (Levin's hair throughout the film) then same landowner donned in a top hat not worn by the people from his "soslovie" (social stratum), Betsy and her jaundice coloured dress, Karenina at the theatre in what looks like a wedding dress and ermine stole, Karenin wearing his wedding band on the left hand (instead of the customary right in Russia), Karenina wearing multiple rings (Chanel-style, naturally) on both hands, - was someone confused as to the custom and decided to tick both boxes, just in case??! Classical waltz transformed into anything but, with peculiar hand movements that one critic described as "beguiling" but which looked suspiciously like mutual slapping of pesky insects and afforded a great deal more of physical intimacy in public than what was socially acceptable. Russian folk songs sang with strong foreign accent. At least no one in the film tried speaking with the Russian accent and for these small things, Lord, one should be grateful!
Overall, I wish I could call the film a drama or, at least, a parody on the 19th century Russian society but, given its omissions and disregard of the cultural or social realities, it is not. For all its pomp and pretentiousness, the film fails to make a single character or scene fully believable, forget about moving or meaningful, and the final result appears to be nothing but a parody on the original effort. Some critics called this film as "breathtaking". I agree, it is breathtaking, - breathtakingly awful, that is.
If your prime reaction to a film is one of disappointment there are
usually some good reasons. My principal response to this version of a
great and well-known story is one of irritation. The overblown
theatrical format of the film gets in the way of character and dramatic
development, to the point where you're aware of a director proclaiming
"aren't we clever with the way we're staging this?" instead of admiring
the straightforward and competent telling of a story. I'm not saying
all films have to be constructed in a conventional manner, but when the
form overtakes the substance something has gone wrong.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky is a piece of serious miscasting. Instead of looking like a great lover and sure temptation for wavering Anna,he looks like some feeble dandy with his foppish shock of dyed curly blonde hair which makes him look quite ridiculous. How on earth Anna could fall for such a creepy-looking guy is beyond most viewers I would submit.
Keira Knightley does the best she can, despite looking most of the time like she's attending a fashion shoot. The character of Anna requires portrayal of a tragic life which she doesn't quite achieve. However, the whole film fails to convey the grandeur of Tolstoy's vision, so she's let off the hook by the film's general levity and lack of substance.
It took me about an hour to stop being irritated by the movie's self
consciousness, to sort of enjoy it... but the damage was done.
As viewers, we have no reason to believe in the love Anna finds. He is creepy and give us no inkling of why she might ruin her life for him.
Kiera isn't bad, just annoying, considering we have no empathy for her self indulgence. If her husband was worse, her love a lot nicer, and if we could feel electricity between them, it would be a different matter, but the fact is the movie is too busy being clever... it misses out on having a heart and soul.
The theatre gimmick got in the way, and seemed like a cheap way of having Moscow backdrops without actually traveling there.
If an award were given for over-directing, this would win hands down.
it's a tribute to Tolstoy that his story came through the fog of
metaphor and cliché, from the stage set play-within-a-movie (our only
guess as to meaning is that they were skimping on location shooting) to
actors twirling around each other to tearing up letters (and with them
any semblance of meaning to life) - to the point of tossing the scraps
up, only to come down as snow (could it get worse?).
With a story like Anna Karenina it seems the director's only job would be to decide which parts to omit; instead, Joe Wright has decided to turn it into a soap opera. It's as if he were doing Shakespearean sonnets and correcting the rhyme and meter.
And casting Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky? When he first came out I thought they'd done a spoof. He reminded me of Gene Wilder in a Mel Brooks version of Tolstoy. On the other hand, Jude Law was perfect as Karenin, as were Domnhall Gleeson as Levin and Olivia Williams as Countess Vronskaya. Sadly, Keira Knightly seems to have thought she was still doing Pirates of the Caribbean, as far from Tolstoy as you can be.
How two marvelously creative men, Wright who did Atonement and Stoppard who gave us the incredible Coast of Utopia, could do this is beyond comprehension.
This new "adaptation" is nonsense. Tolstoy's novel is about a woman who belonged to the upper class that governed the Great Russia, the country extending from Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean, from Arctics to Afghanistan. Why is that Vonsky's mother, a princess by the title, is sharing a bench with senator Karenin's wife in a second class car where her son, price Vronsky finds them somewhere between third and the 4th raw? Their wealth allowed them to travel in a separate car and they often did! We were told from the screen that it was Russia of 1874. Well then how comes that Anna's "son" plays with train toys that run... on batteries? The cancan was normal for the working-class ballrooms of Montparnasse, but not for the aristocracy of Russian Empire exactly because it contradicted to aristocratic education and highly developed sense of taste. And amidst all of this nonsense we hear a bunch of "subRussian" "aj-lu-lu" songs that would be appropriate for the poor villagers but not for the Russian Aristocracy of this time. The movie appears to be staged in the backstage of a Café chantant. I was shocked to see that there is a hen sitting on the bookcase in Oblonsky's study. And why the Karenin's bedroom is situated in a huge hall with many columns in it? And his servants dressed as servants in bistro? Servants of aristocracy had to wear "la livrea", a livery, a uniform! I have impression that ladies jewelries were rented from a local Macy's store, while the entire picture was filmed in an abandoned provincial theater with broken walls and bad floor. And please notice that soup Marie-Louise is always with asparagus, so it is as inappropriate to mention this to the guests of Stiva Oblonsky's dinner. Extremely bad taste is obvious from about all scenes of the film. But so is the idea of this movie. We were offered just another attempt to present an adultère with a little bit attachment to un époux Russe. Unlike the world of commoners, Anna was not granted the freedom of choice because her divorce and remarriage was to be approved by the Most Holly Sinod, and the divorce lawyer, who was omitted from the film, was quite clear about this issue in his conversation with Karenin. This is why the drama had to be moved from the formal level to individual qualities of the people involved. And the only one who in my opinion reached this goal on behalf of Tolsoy was Jude Law, who was excellent as new Karenin lacking the common impression of a ridiculed husband. I understand that the "stamping" clerks from Oblonsky's office was added to the whole venture by Mrs. Wright and Stoppard as a token of their appreciation of Russian Avant-garde theatre, but it only enhanced the feeling of totally lost control over the flow of the drama. I am greatly disappointed. In my opinion, this film lacks good taste, understanding of Tolstoy's original idea, understanding of the characters, the time and circumstances of the drama, which together constitute a minimum requirement for a fair cinematography for classics adaptation. Don't even think to offer this thing to Russian viewers, because it will cause nothing but a belly laugh. Try to find and enjoy the Anna Karenina (1967) directed by great Aleksandr Zarkhi: this is a true piece of art, colorful and careful to every detail, the highest expression of a family drama without exits that explains its tragic end.
Closed in and Claustrophobic: I felt I could breathe only when the
scenes escaped outside of the theater stage and onto the snow covered
train depot or the green fields where Levin was sowing grass, or where
love was a lazy-day picnic on the greenest of grasses, but only briefly
and only disappointingly, after again finding myself cramped and
stifled in a hot sweltering and old 19th century theater.
The ball room scene was excruciating. The dances and dancers themselves reminded me of a mix of street dance, country and western, and some invented Tim Burtonesque "Danse Macabre" for the purposes of being unique, strange, and possibly "histrionic". The moves were stiff and unflattering and I was embarrassed to watch Anna and Vronsky clumsily make there way through the physical distortions that made their clothes appear ill-fitting and as though they both had two left feet.
I could not feel the same passionate love between Anna and Vronsky in this movie adaptation as I'd previously felt in reading the novel. The emphasis on cinematic style and surrealism kept interrupting my wish to re-live and enjoy the story. Further, contradictory to the memories of my mind's eye of the handsome and manly Vronsky in the novel, I came to see him in the movie as bit effeminate-looking, weak, and depicted as a vulnerable little mommy's boy.
I paid my ticket expectant and hopeful but at the end and as I exited the theater I found myself confused, disappointed, and ripped-off.
Anna Karenina will always be one of the greatest experiences in literature I've had the pleasure of. But next time, as surely there will be yet a "next time", I'll simply pass on the movie.
I simply cannot bear the risk of seeing Vronsky look like that again.
Director Joe Wright's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's 1877 novel Anna
Karenina is one of the most visually stunning and artistically bold
films I've seen in quite some time. Wright places most of his plot
within the confines of a dilapidated theatre and has his actors make
use of the stage, stalls and behind the scenes areas when forming the
sets of late Tsarist Saint Petersburg. Actors will walk from one part
of the theatre to another with sets and costumes changing around them,
all with the hustle and bustle of both a real theatre and lively city.
It's a stylistic decision which was probably met with scepticism by
studio bosses and the like but works incredibly well to bring to life
the characters which themselves are so wonderfully written by Tolstoy.
Joe Wright was lucky in a way in that he started off with a fantastic story, written by Tolstoy. This was then adapted by Oscar winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard who handed Wright and his cast a beautifully well crafted script which despite its complexities, rolls of the tongues of the talented cast. I have never read the source novel and have in fact never managed to finish any of the great works of Russian literature (the names don't help) so the plot was new to me. The themes of love, infidelity, trust and city vs countryside-life charge out of the screen and most are tackled very well. One area which I thought was slightly forgotten was the fascinating part of the plot regarding Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). Levin is in love with an attractive and highly sought after young Princess, Kitty (Alicia Vikander). His tale of love, family, hardship and politics feels slightly brushed to one side which is a shame as his arc also points towards the social upheaval which would greet Russia in the coming decades.
The first half of this film was probably my favourite half of any I've seen in the cinema this year. It whizzed along thanks to the dialogue, plot and interesting design. The problems that I have with some period dramas such as dull ideas and duller characters felt a million miles away as I watched, transfixed with a smile on my face. The highlight of the entire film for me was a ball in which some of the central characters danced. This was a scene full of careful manoeuvring, examination and lust as the two lovers become intimate for the first time. Onlookers watch on as Anna and Count Vronsky dance a waltz to an ever quickening pace. Kitty watches with horror as she sees the man she thought was hers slip away. The dancing itself is beautifully choreographed and came as close to art as I've seen dance be. Due in part to the nature of the story, the second half of the film doesn't quite live up to the pace or intensity of the opening half but is nonetheless interesting, dark and impressive.
There are three things which make Anna Karenina one of my favourite films of 2012 so far. The first is the story, the second is the direction and the third is the acting. Every single member of the cast dazzles here with not one actor giving a misjudged or poor performance. The standout for me is Jude Law whose mild mannered and restrained performance is simply incredible. He maintains grace and dignity despite having a terrible spell thanks to Anna and Law manages to convey all of his emotions in a similar understated way to Gary Oldman did with Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. He also makes the audience feel incredibly empathetic towards his character. For an actress I'm not particularly fond of, Keira Knightly has somehow found herself with two excellent central performances in two of my favourite films of the year; this and A Dangerous Method. She feels like the go-to-girl for this type of role and is excellent although my girlfriend rightly points out that when she smiles, she looks like she's about to cry. Aaron Taylor-Johnson also gives a good performance, despite comedy moustache, as the dashing lover. He is believable as the swarve and arrogant cavalryman but is outplayed by Law in later scenes. It's funny to think that ten years ago it would probably have been Jude Law in the Vronsky role but he has matured as an actor in recent years and can carry off a character like Karenin with aplomb. Another standout is Matthew Macfadyen who plays more of a comedy character but plays it gracefully. Domhnall Gleeson is also superb as Levin.
Despite the great acting this is the director's film. The style is so bold that at first I was worried that it wouldn't work but to keep a city as vast as Saint Petersburg inside one theatre then having the rest of the world to play with outside the city was a fantastic idea which was pulled off with pinpoint precision. There are flaws, for instance it felt slightly too long and some areas weren't given as much attention as I'd have liked (two contradictory statements I know) but overall Anna Karenina is a enchanting film and one of the best I've seen so far this year.
I adore the novel, so I will be discussing Joe Wright's take on it and
where it ranks amongst other adaptations but I will of course look at
its merits as a film aside from the novel.
As a whole adaptation, this version falls somewhere in the middle. Even without all the metatheatrical trappings, it still took an interesting and valid approach to the novel, proving that the novel could be adapted until infinity and it would still be fresh each time. As readers of the novel would know, there is much more to it than Anna's affair. Tolstoy did not write vague types: he wrote fully-fleshed characters, and Tom Stoppard's screenplay acknowledged Tolstoy's style. Therefore I don't want to condemn the film outright because that would overshadow the things that it does get right.
Keira Knightley's version of Anna is not nearly as bad as you would think. She has the sense to restrain herself a little so that the many other elements of the novel shine through. She goes for the unsympathetic approach and it works. All her mannerisms that I generally find annoying- the schoolgirl smirking and rampant nymphomania- actually work for this role. This Anna takes Vronsky just because she can, and then ultimately regrets it. We can feel her frustration: she's young and wants to have fun but she's tied down to a stuffy older husband. In that sense, it's quite a modern interpretation, but not hideously so.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky was just miscast. If the novel had been about Anna seducing a schoolboy, he would have been great, but Vronsky is meant to be a dashing man. The styling is atrocious- he looks like a seventies Scandinavian Eurovision entry. Wright seems to have told some of the actors to act realistic and some to play up to the stylised setting. Taylor-Johnson plays the artifice so much that he just comes off as camp and sleazy. The scene where he is about to ride Frou Frou is like a production of Equus and there's a love scene with Keira Knightley that brought to mind an old advert for Philadelphia cheese. Their revelation of love is also poorly dealt with. Anna has some kind of fantasy dream where the two have an "erotic ballet" and suddenly they're banging away, presumably now in the real world.
Jude Law as Karenin. A bizarre choice when he could have played Vronsky five years ago and might even get away with it now at a push. However, he gives a performance that is probably his best. His Karenin is a bureaucrat through and through. Other adaptations have still made Karenin an attractive option. This Karenin is certainly not going to develop any great passion soon. We also see how he is manipulated by moral guardian Countess Lydia. If Law is trying to make a reputation as a serious actor, he's on the right path.
And what about all that pretentious theatre stuff? It seriously slows down the pace in the first third but once you get used to it, you can just enjoy the film. The ending is rather abrupt (no, that famous ending is not the last scene) but quite poignant.
There is something I just don't understand in the way people here vote
for a film and this one is a perfect example of incoherence: 7.2 when
so many reviews are negative and I completely agree with this
negativeness! I saw the movie yesterday afternoon in Paris and came out
of the theater wondering why had I lost my money and time for such a
nonsense. There is absolutely nothing in this film worth retaining. The
director and his scenery designer took obviously an immense pleasure in
presenting the story in a sophisticated setting making all they could
to mislead the spectator especially if he has not read the novel!
Aestheticism can be interesting to use but in limited amount If I may
say so, too much make up on a beautiful face will make of it a
horrifying masquerade and this is what happens here.
Everything in this movie seems to come out from the glaciation ages! There is not a single moment when the tragedy which develops before your eyes can move you and make you take pity of any of the protagonists; even the music score is boring and completely misused and not in accordance with the plot.
A total disaster to be forgotten as quickly as possible!
Finally the 2 hours were over and I could leave! This is one of the
worst movies of the year - save yourself the money and buy the book, if
What a pretentious, over-the-top melodrama... I felt seriously embarrassed to sit through it. Overall bad performances, possibly created by the director's insistence to try some new style.
Newsflash: It didn't work.
The theater-style setup, constant moving of set pieces, semi-choreography of background characters, constant musical accompaniment and mixing it all with some realistic sets does all but incapacitate whatever seriousness was left in the source material.
If feels like a puppet theater with airs. Razzie please.
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