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Anna Karinina

As you know, dears, I don't go to the movies much.  It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I like other things better, and (despite a game effort) it's not feasible to live all possible lives at the same time.  Still, we occasionally indulge when it looks as if a movie's going to be significantly better on a large screen than a small one.  And I was in a fed-up, I know-not-howish state last evening.  Ellen was out, I messaged her that a movie sounded good, she called me back, and negotiations began.  We thought we could both make a 7:00 pm show of Anna Karinina, so I hung up, grabbed a piece of bread and butter and a taxi, and met her on 68th Street at 7:10--plenty of time to see 5 more trailers before the movie started.

Long story short:  I loved it.  I don't like the character Anna Karinina, I don't like the actress Kiera Knightly.  Veronsky is far too pretty for my taste and the costumes are not even remotely accurate: 19th Century-oid, with a hefty side of Hollywood.  I noted all these things in the first 10 minutes or so, and then did not give them a second thought.  Because they didn't matter.  I was enchanted, I was seduced, I was lost in admiration of Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard's melodrama of manners.

Briefly (because I have a duck to get in the oven), the overarching conceit of the movie is that the action of the novel is a play being performed in and around a slightly down-at-heel theater.  Servants place furniture, change scenes, offer tea and papers, coats and corsets.  Movements are choreographed, artificial, deliberate. The actors move from the stage to the flies and wings and under-stage, from the orchestra to the balconies to the foyer, from rooms that look like stage sets to exteriors that are utterly natural, depending on who is in the scene and what they're doing.  It's very carefully thought out, very cleverly done.  At first, mostly what I noticed was the cleverness of it, which went with the cleverness of Stoppard's script.  It was delightful, it was charming.  It wasn't particularly emotionally engaging, but then Stoppard isn't, always.

And then, in the exquisite ball scene, where Anna and Veronsky dance together, Kitty's heart is broken, and Moscow society begins to take notice, I ceased analyzing. I stopped consciously noticing which scenes took place in the theater and which shaded into more naturalistic settings (except for the horse race, of course, which was spendidly, effectively, theatrical), stopped thinking that no decent woman of the time would have been caught dead in a sleeveless gown and no gloves, stopped being aware of the cool and interesting things Wright does with sound (again, the horse race is a wonderful example, with the flutter of Anna's fan shading into the thunder of horse's hooves) and silence, with color, with composition.  I was, in fact, in love.

I know now that I accepted an invitation to be Anna and Veronsky, to share with them in the complete unself-consciousness that surrounds a couple lost in dawning infatuation.  I suspect that Wright is trying to overcome the camera's unbending 3rd person p.o.v and show us what Anna and Veronsky (and Kitty and Levin, whose story gets equal weight, as it should) were experiencing, moment to moment.  I absolutely know that he is saying interesting and thoughtful things about society and rules and morality and about the soul-killing weight of knowing, every minute of every day, that you are being watched and judged.  But that was for afterwards, for when I was in the lobby, watching the Thanksgiving crowds pour into the multiplex to see one of the 12 movies on offer while Ellen was upstairs trying to recover the lightbulbs she'd bought that afternoon and left under our seats.  At the time, I was lost.

Also, I realize now, I liked the fact that none of the characters was easily parsed.  Karinin is stiff and conventional and stifling, but also a good man.  Levin is a bit of a dork, but really tries to understand both Kitty and his difficult brother and his responsibility to his land and his people.  Veronsky genuinely loves Anna, even when she's behaving like a raving loon.  And Anna is a conventional and not very complicated (or bright) woman who thinks she's braver and stronger than she actually is.  They all seem very real, very individual, very human.

Like a lot of interstitial art, Anna Karinina won't be to all tastes. IMDB rates it 7 out of 10, I've read luke-warmish reviews pronouncing it good but not great, well-meaning and ambitious, but puzzling, artificial, and finally, dull.  I found it risky and astonishing and beautiful and very, very sensual.  I'll be interested, if you decide to see it, what you think.  Because, man.  It wasn't the usual literary adaptation.  Not at all.  


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 22nd, 2012 09:12 pm (UTC)
Ah! I am glad you liked it more than I did. I *loved* the staging, the outrageous costuming, all of that, absolutely loved it, and I thought Jude Law was mind-bogglingly good as the husband. But I felt no chemistry at all between Anna and Veronsky, which sort of blew that storyline for me. :)
Nov. 22nd, 2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
I can see how that would be. I thought they had chemistry, especially in the country scenes. Perhaps I was just giving them the benefit of the doubt. Or assuming that it's there because I consider Keira Knightley ontologically chemistry-free. Doesn't matter, though. Jude Law was AWESOME.
Nov. 23rd, 2012 08:36 am (UTC)
The *real* reason their chemistry failed for me, I suspect, is because the dance scene? Was filmed exactly the same way in (the same director's) Pride & Prejudice, also starring Kiera Knightly. I mean, there wasn't the jealousy/breaking heart thing going on in P&P, but the other dancers fading away? Exactly what he did in P&P. And while I thought it was wonderfully effective in P&P, I was like, "...really? He's doing it again? *Seriously*?" in AK, and so all the emotional charge that was supposed to bring just fell absolutely, utterly flat for me.

Disappointing, because I liked *so much* about the film, and I would have loved to have been swept away by the romance too.

I might buy it anyway, just to watch Jude Law's heart break whenever I like. ;)
Nov. 24th, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)
Yes, it's beautiful, but any version of "Karenina" where virtually everyone
fees sorry for Karenin so much more than Anna is a major failure of
Nov. 25th, 2012 03:53 pm (UTC)
For you (and many others). I kind of liked this reading of the characters, which (for me, anyway) allowed all the characters full humanity. Nobody was a saint; nobody was a devil--they were flawed human beings, who made bad decisions and did the best they could. At various points of the movie, I felt sorry for every character.
Nov. 25th, 2012 03:57 pm (UTC)
This is the good thing about not seeing many movies (or, clearly, remembering the ones I have seen). I didn't remember he'd done the "world goes away" thing before. But then, I didn't much like what I think of as Emily Bronte's Pride & Prejudice. Too much Romance, not enough Society. For my taste.

I did like the fact that the Bennet girls were making their clothes on the dining room table, though. And Mrs. Bennet's girlhood sacque dress gown she wore to the Netherfield ball. That was some fine sociological thinking things through.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 24th, 2012 12:32 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen a new movie for a while but since I just read the book last year, this may be one I need to see. Thanks for the review! :)
Nov. 25th, 2012 03:06 am (UTC)
As I think I may have mentioned on Facebook, I'd been ambivalent about the film primarily because of Knightley (who I liked in Atonement, but hated in Pride & Prejudice) but also because I'd heard mixed reviews of the meta-theatrical elements (This was the first one I read, if you're curious). The concept fascinates me, I love Stoppard, and I thought the trailer, of all things, was positively gorgeous. The only sour note for me was Vronsky, who I did not find even remotely appealing, but I'm glad to hear you didn't find him problematic and you've made me really curious to see it.

Have you seen the 1998 version of Anna Karenina, out of curiosity? Sean Bean has ruined me for every other Vronsky, and if you want period-accurate costumes, St. Petersburg locations, and a backdrop of Sir Georg Solti and the London Symphony playing more Tchaikovsky than you can shake a stick at, I highly recommend it. It's flawed, yes, and the Levin storyline gets shortchanged, but I really like it as an adaptation.
Nov. 25th, 2012 03:47 pm (UTC)
Well, it's a question of taste, isn't it? Alexandra Coghian hated the meta-theatrics; I loved them. She hated Vronsky. I wasn't enthralled with him either (far, far too pretty for words), but I believed that Anna was hot for him, and that he loved Anna, and that's the point of the romance, right?

See, this is why I hate prescriptive reviews, that privilege the reviewer's taste above all things. Just because I don't like something, I don't think that makes it Bad Art. Ok, I do, but am chary about saying so in public. Because several books I think are unconvincing, thin, badly written, and pointless are wildly popular, well-beloved, and even seriously written about by academics. These books don't speak to me. They do speak to those who love them, and that's wonderful.

This Anna Karenina spoke to me. It may or may not speak to you. But I genuinely think it's a serious enough effort at putting some of what Tolstoy was trying to say in the novel (no film could do justice to its full compexity) to make up your own mind about.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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