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This film re-creates the historical setting of the 1860s brilliantly, then spoils it all with an Eisensteinian-expressionistic style of acting and photography that gives one the giggles with its melodramatic jerkiness. Worst of all is Rodion Shchedrin's shrill, strident score. It would be too loud and insistent for an axe murder in an insane asylum; in a drawing room from the reign of Alexander II it sounds simply ludicrous and irritating.
Vasili Lanovoy is handsome and romantic-looking as Count Aleksey Vronsky—his stiff bearing probably correct stylistically, his costumes wonderful. He does love to stare and lurch in that "I-am-Ivan-the-Terrible's-kid-brother" manner of Soviet film. His hair piece is not very good, either.
Lanovoy does at least very much look his part, which is more than can be said of the woman playing Anna Karenina. She looks a lot more like Anna Magnani, complete with black moustache. Mme Karenin is supposed to be an extraordinary aristocratic beauty, a being from the highest society. Here she looks like she has strayed from a film by Pietro Germi. The actress likes bombastic reactions right out of Mexican television drama, which the camera captures with Shchedrinesque careenings.
That great acting was possible, even in this school of film, is witnessed to by the master player of the role of Aleksey Karenin, Nikolai Gritsenko (1912–1979). He is quite unforgettable and detailed; he helps one understand Tolstoy better.
Most of the film is the other way around: one would hardly understand anything if one had not previously read the novel. The abrupt and disconcerting editing doesn't help.
No film could ever hope to do justice to such a literary masterpiece, but Clarence Brown's 1935 version is incomparably more satisfactory. Too bad. This could have been wonderful.
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