Sunday, December 9, 2012

Anna Karenina (Brockway)

 Anna Karenina

Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" is sumptuously produced but its decadent attention to detail makes it a Vanity Fair photo spread rather than a nourishing  experience or even a postmodern exercise. Keira Knightley is gorgeous-- a vamp in black--but unless this is a fashion shoot, I found it all a bit too pretentious. 

When the story begins we see a toy stage that evolves into a carnival of sorts, there are all kinds of elegantly plumped ladies twirling about and men blowing on trumpets, there is a man on a unicycle and even (horror upon horror)  a mime. I get the idea. This is a conceptual interpretation of a literary classic, but there is so much surface and artifice that it all seems a déjà view of Baz Luhrmann without much impact. 

The novelty of a  toy train offers a thin Christmas gimmick---all window dressing without a purchase.  

We have Keira Knightley, as Karenina tied down to the stentorian Alexei (Jude Law). One grey day on a train, Karenina becomes thunderstruck by the effete Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Vronsky is quite a character. I want to believe in his charisma, but at least in this incarnation, he has all the magnetism of a paper doll. Like Dorian Gray, he is all surface and silk waistcoats, going from dark wooded room to dark wooded room. He doesn't say all that much ( no one does) but I will give him this: his sunflower-tinted  mustache is flawless. It's remarkable that his face loses none of its polish even when he's away in the army. Dirt and smudges never touch him. Vronsky's expression is fixed in adamantine splendor. It says "I'm Handsome!" Yet he has all the chemistry of a velvet pointed #2 pencil. 

Keira Knightley is a definite stunner but aside from looking terrific in wonderful costumes, there isn't much drama for her to execute. Her best scene ( and perhaps the film's singular interest) is a sexual one in which she screams out "Murderer, Murderer!" as she reaches climax. It is a good scene but too little, too late. Mostly the film has her looking wistfully into the camera, (or into a mirror) a veil arranged perfectly around her face like a halo of black moths. The camera loves Knightley and her face makes magic. But it only goes so far. Her character moves at one speed: a stalk. In one particular scene, she partially disrobes as she treads aggressively. The cinematography is almost a direct imitation of a Victoria's Secret commercial. Every interpretation of the past carries something of the present with it, but it is too obvious to make for a compelling show. 

This tissue thin Tolstoy left me craving more cinematic meat. For all the fade ins, fade outs and double exposures, I could guess what was coming.  When Anna looks in the mirror, it is shattered, her face is shown in multiples. But of course. This imagery is right out of a Joan Crawford nerve-shrieker or a Roman Polanski chiller. I even recall the Twilight Zone using a splintered  mirror trick. 

The camera motion is grand. The costumes are impeccable with Intelligent Design but there is only a moon's breath of acting here, and a lacquered fingernail's width of tension. The stage-proscenium expansion and contraction device grew tedious with me, (I did not find the horse leaping out across "a stage" as exciting as 'Warhorse') as did the manner in which characters appear and vanish without rhyme or reason at times. The cast of "Twilight" has more respect for the machinery of time and space.  

I'll admit that the last segment of the film piqued my interest a bit, it's amazing what a quick spyglass, a tense score and a bit of dialogue can do---shades of the excellent "Dangerous Liaisons"---and it was almost enough. Ah Close but no cigar!

"Anna Karenina" works quite well as a conceptual commercial: the shortening of time and space, the flashy ultra-stylized gold, the characters invariably lit with overexposed lighting, the swift camera tracks, but as a sustained film, there is little to hang one's topcoat on. Excluding a few well timed dashes of nerve and fever It is pointlessly in love with itself, over producing a visual cirque malaise. 

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1 comment:

Lois mcAffrey-Lopez said...

Quite disappointed by this version of Anna Karenina. The swirling in your face manipulations reminded me of a silent movie's desperate attempt to elicit emotion and make us understand. The beauty of Tolstoy lies in his subtle clues. This film ignored that, and screamed at us. The costumes and colors were beautiful, but the story lacked depth, and yes, I found myself looking at the time and wondering "how much longer". And I have read Anna Karenina 3 times!