Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (2012) - dir. Joe Wright

Love, it is the feeling which no words can define, and no definition can capture its passion and beauty. Leo Tolstoy created a masterpiece with Anna Karenina, exploring the very core of love in an entrancing tale set against imperial Russia. Adapted over 20 times on the silver screen, 2012 saw director Joe Wright and Keira Knightley create a daring vision fit for the modern screen, though is bittersweet in its success.

Anna Karenina posits love as multi dimensional, as shown through the relationships in the film. The most notable of these being of course, that which embroils Anna. Keira Knightley brings to the stage her full talents as an actress, displaying all to which I held her character Anna to. Her performance is transcendent, showing a tragic beauty, passionate lover and empathetic soul that combine in a riveting display. Her character Anna forms the middle of a scandalous triangle. Wife to Alexei Karenin, a respected minister, and mistress to Count Vronsky, a dashing cavalry officer. Alexei is saintly in demeanor a doting husband and devoted father to her child. However their love is artificial, for as Anna mention's 'I was eighteen when I got married, but it was not love.' This construct comes to a halt upon meeting Vronsky, and this is where my attachment to Karenina's character diverges.

This is not love she experiences, but lust. From the brilliantly scripted ballroom dance, to each moment they share onwards, it is an attraction which reeks of sexuality. It is only when they are in a physical bond that Anna displays any true joy in their relationship. In fact much of the rest of their coupling is mired with Anna's incessant jealousy and selfishness towards Vronsky. This I believe to be validated through the film's portrayal of the relationship between Konstantin Levin and Kitty. Kitty begins much like Anna, courting Vronsky not out of love but again a lustful desire. However it is the sympathetic portrayal of Levin that wins her over, as he professes an altruistic love for her that triumphs over physical yearning. Anna throws away this true love that her husband genuinely provides, and subsequently all the things important to her, including the son to which she is closest of all. 

All the world's a stage, and we but players on it. That is the guiding vision for this film, with the majority of the film set within a theater, it's wings and backstage. The choice is an apt one, not only in service of a stylistically distinct film, but also thematically. For in 19th Century Russian aristocracy, we cannot act with impunity and discretion, a fact which comes to plague the titular character Anna. She carries out her scandalous affair that the audience is always there, watching. This in turn becomes suffocating, with the tight confines, though opulent, only serving to further emphasize the constraints of Russian society. However much like my eventual disdain for the character Anna, I came to see this staging as a poisoned chalice to the viewer. Whilst serving the plot nicely, functionally I saw this singular set as confusing. This was especially apparent in the many scene transitions, and there are plenty, which came across as jarring to the point I would struggle to know what exactly was happening.

Anna Karenina is daring to a T. The film is beautiful to behold in its set design, costuming and cinematography (which I hope the Academy will acknowledge). The performances should also be lauded, with Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Matthew Macfayden perfectly cast. Though not perfect in execution, I much prefer a flawed attempt over a stock standard period drama that we're used to. 7/10


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