Sunday, December 9, 2012

Anna Karenina (Rhoades)

 “Anna Karenina”
Is a Flawed Beauty

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever college student knows of “Anna Karenina,” that great Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy, even if they haven’t actually read it. It begins, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The 8-part novel’s epigraph is a quote from the Bible: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” The theme is that no one can build their own happiness on another’s pain.
Time Magazine declared it the “greatest novel ever written.” As did William Faulkner.
There have been more than a dozen movie versions, starring everyone from Greta Garbo to Vivien Leigh to Sophie Marceau. Most film buff’s are familiar with Greta Garbo’s classic 1935 rendition – and maybe have heard of the 1927 version also starring Garbo.
Now we have a new rendition starring Keira Knightley.
As directed by Joe Wright, this British production sticks fairly close to Tolstoy’s story – with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard.
Set in 19th century Tsarist Russia’s high-society, the storyline examines many aspects of love, from the passion (and guilt) between adulterers to a mother’s bond with her children.
As in the book, Anna Karenina questions her own happiness while change comes to her family and friends.
Yes, like the book, it has a tragic ending.
Keira Knightley calls it “definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
She describes the film as “looking at the human condition as a whole. And that’s going from the best of humanity to the worst of humanity often in one character.”
Director Joe Wright was challenged in another way – making this film different than those that had come before. “It just got to a point where I was walking around stately homes in England and I had people saying to me, ‘Well we’ve made three Keira Knightley films here before,’ and in Russia we had people saying, ‘Oh yes, we’ve made seven Anna Kareninas here before,’ and I was going, ‘Oh god, why am I doing this, it is so depressing.’”
The resulting film he likened to “jumping off a cliff.”
Some scenes depict the anti-heroine standing on a stage as her marriage and social status disintegrates.  The cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg are rendered as elaborate stage sets.
“I’m glad how daring Joe has been,” says Knightley, “and I’m glad I jumped off the cliff with him.” However, she admits that “the style will not work for everyone.”
The critics seem to agree. Variety called it technically “glorious,” but “unmistakably chilly” in the storytelling. Digital Spy criticized the narrative momentum, saying the movie chose “a glossy look over probing insights into a complicated character.”
“Anna Karenina” is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema.
It’s director Joe wright’s third film with Keira Knightley. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” might be seen as failures, what one critic described as “trapped in literariness.”
“Anna Karenina” is more like a form of theater. Yet the highly mobile camera doesn’t allow it to look stagy.
Two-time Academy Award nominee Jude Law, who plays Anna’s husband, calls Stoppard’s script “remarkable.” He adds, “The piece looks at different angles of love and relationships, honestly and openly and without judgment. There is such an elegance to the way Tom writes dialogue. It’s masterful…”
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, with curly blond hair and soulful eyes, is the young cavalry officer who leads Anna astray. “That’s what this film is,” he says, “how far you go for love.”
Knightley observes, “Anna is a great and fallible character, one who speaks to what makes us human; in her, you see the flaws, the heroics, and the terrifying emotions. You care about her, and can’t help but recognize yourself.”

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