Saturday, December 01, 2012

Anna Karenina (2012)

"I was eighteen when I got married, but it was not love."

Princess Anna Arkadyevna Karenina is part of the upper crust of Russian aristocracy whose rather bland 'just so' life is turned upside-down upon meeting Count Vronsky, a handsome cavalry officer. Their mutual attraction flies in the face of her status as a married woman and mother. Left with choosing either her husband and child or a passionate affair, she picks the latter, compromising her loveless marriage and her social status. As she fights to keep both disparate desires from slipping away, she spirals off into delusions and paranoia, leaving the audience wondering how she will extricate herself from the corner she's painted herself into.

I loved Knightley's costumes in this film! The opulent furs and fabrics, coupled with a troupe of feathers and diamonds make for a spectacular wardrobe. Knightley and period films go together well but I've always felt that there was something of a disconnect between what she says she's feeling versus her facial expressions and body language. It makes any emotional reaction difficult to believe because there's no visual evidence. I did buy into the frantic energy that manifested as the film progressed. She seemed to be in earnest over a myriad of things including her son, Vronsky and what other people of her social set thought of her dalliance.

I thought Jude Law did a great job in his role as Karenin. He perfectly fit his costume which gave his character an "Old World" look. He was the one character who looked like he actually belonged in the Russia of the 1870s. He exuded a calm personality, not given to fits of anger. He seemed very practical, very logical but not very loving. In fact, he treated his marriage and his wife more like an obligation he's expected to fulfill. He couldn't comprehend Anna's infidelity, as if he couldn't imagine she would have wanted more out of their marriage other than her child, fine clothes and place in society.

Johnson didn't work for me as Vronsky. I think part of the large problem was the lack of chemistry between him and Knightley. It's something you can't fake and was sorely needed in this movie. Knightley and Law have a cold, almost contractual relationship which is as it should be but I didn’t feel any heat between Knightley and Johnson. My understanding of her character was that the entire point of her affair was that she’d never been in love before, having married her husband for reasons other than emotional attachment. Vronsky was supposed to spur this sensual awakening within her where she experiences what it’s like to truly love a man and thus, make the fatal choice of choosing to be with him. I wanted to see burning looks from across the room, the barest touch to ignite a conflagration between the two but even rolling around naked seemed more of a formality for the sake of the plot that a consummation of passions. Overall the relationship between the two fell flat.

Matthew MacFadyen stole the show as Stiva however. He had this whole WC Fields look going on with bright costumes and this overlarge mustache. And when he smiles! It's the widest smile and it lights up the whole room.

The story has a very surreal feel to it as large swathes of the film take place in an old run down theatre, re-purposed as various locations, such as an office, a train station and a cafe. On one hand this makes the film stagnant, despite the amazing set design changes and gives the film a confined feeling, very much like a play. I was hoping to see some great sweeping landscapes, taking advantage of the vastness of Russia. This film took a different approach though, bringing the locations into the theatre so I applaud the risk. The sets were beautiful though, my favourite being the train station, all covered in steam and snow and bathed in a soft blue light.

I wasn't sure what to make of the singing that intermittently popped up or the balletic movements peppered throughout. It made for very fluid movement, especially during the dance scene which had a very ethereal feel to it, but I wasn't sure why it was in the film. As well, the pace was rather frustrating for the first half of the movie. It runs at breakneck speed and doesn’t give the viewer a chance to absorb what’s been said or even enjoy the scenes. The sets are sumptuous and as someone who appreciates period films, I wanted to luxuriate in them, not watch them pass by like so many train cars. During the second half, after things started to slow down there is this great scene between Kitty and Levin. Very little is said but they speak through a set of alphabet blocks. It's a very quiet yet intimate scene that really speaks to who their characters are.

My final verdict is that the film is very pretty but Tolstoy's message is either non existent or buried so far underneath layers of silk, fur and snow as to be unrecognizable to anyone other than a Tolstoy scholar. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes period films but I wouldn't expect to fully comprehend what Tolstoy was trying to say without reading the book first.


Melwyk said...

I don't know if I will ever be able to watch this...I have a strong aversion to Keira Knightly!! On the other hand, I really adore Matthew McFayden so perhaps I'll wait til it is in dvd and just fast forward through her parts...since you say that the coherence isn't all that great anyhow ;)

theduckthief said...

The only thing I've really liked Knightley in was "Bend it Like Beckham". The film definitely follows a linear structure but it's more style over substance. Let's just say I don't think Tolstoy would have enjoyed it. It's a pretty movie but to me, more like fluff than anything. I want a movie with some meat to it and this just felt like it was skimming the surface. Definitely more of a rental than a buy.