Friday, 22 February 2013

Movie Review - Anna Karenina

There were actually no masks in the film. I think.
   I had Anna Karenina as required reading in high school. It was a daunting novel in length and not the type of story I was into in those days. I can still recall scenes from the book. I wondered how Joe Wright's adaptation would fare against imagination.

   Set in Russia in the 1870's, Anna Karenina struggles with the attentions of a persistent Count Vronsky. She eventually gives in to his affections and consequently society rejects her for her infidelity. A parallel story is one of the love lost Levin and how he deals with his feelings for young Kitty.

   The treatment of the classic tale blew me away. The director presented the story as a stage play weaving in and out of the real world. The sets are sometimes constructed on stage, cleverly shifting with the actors then all of a sudden, it is stark scene in a lush open field or a busy noisy train station. Innovative jump cuts and transitions catch the viewer by surprise. Tricks in terms of timing and interpretation are utilized, such as the metaphor of being alone in a crowd or time standing still for a moment. A favorite would be the dancing scene, where the rawness of emotion is brought to bear in dizzying views. The cinematography of the film brilliantly executed, the vision completely solid.

   What is also to be applauded is the way story details aren't spoon-fed to the viewer. The film moves at a quick pace, from one scene to the other. The audience is expected to fill in the blanks, sparing little exposition as the story is conveyed through the actors' expressions and emotions. It is an intellectual exercise of sorts. The affair with building blocks, while less involved with feelings, is brilliantly planned and accomplished.

   The music is perfectly complimentary to the scenes. They generate the proper tension and atmosphere to enhance the performance of the actors. The dramatic moments would have less of an impact of it wasn't for the masterful score.

   Now the plot revolves around the passion and desperation of the characters. Love is the theme , of course, but the one involving the title character is more of being carried away with passion. After the fact, it becomes a study of social practices and norms, with tangibly painful results. The secondary protagonist, while not as easy journey, has the more pure version of love.

   The element of humor, brought forth in the form of Stiva, the brother of Anna, is a pleasant surprise as I don't recall it in the source material but it is quite welcome nonetheless. The sexual aspects of the film is more of passion but is not without explicitness. Now I know for certain that those weren't depicted in detail in the novel. It would have been a more engrossing read if it was, haha.

   Keira Knightley is beautiful and vulnerable with her tears. She skillfully switches from a strong and confident woman to one unsure and unstable. Aaron Johnson is more reserved despite his consuming personality. Jude Law is the severe and sympathetic husband, on the side of righteousness. Levin and Kitty are played by Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, fulfilling the main cast. Of note would be Stiva, brother of Anna Karenina, humorously but still humanly portrayed by Matthew Macfadyen. Their roles are downplayed as the film centers more on the title character but they receive their share in the light.

   The story of Anna Karenina is revered as a true classic and the film adaptation does it true justice. It took liberties with the conversion to the big screen but the innovation and techniques make for a compelling and enthralling experience.

SPOILERS!!!  Don't look or you'll make Kitty cry some more.
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   The fatality in the train scene was rather gory. Was it necessary?

   The horse racing scene was well executed, with equines on stage.

   The sex scenes. Yeah.

   More of Levin would have been nice but it's because I favored his story over Anna's.

   The brother was a gem of a character, philanderer or not.

   Best scenes are numerous but I favor the spectacularly choreographed dance scene and the building blocks debacle. The former had moves I had never seen before and the latter was an cute, emotional brain teaser.

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