Anna Karenina (Blu-ray) DVD

7 Apr

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Synopsis: Director Joe Wright and writer Tom Stoppard’s visually  stunning telling of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Featuring Keira Knightley as Anna and Jude Law as Karenin, the story speaks of love, infidelity and consequences in the Imperial age of Russia in the late 1900’s.

Cast

Keira Knightley …………………………………………Anna Karenina

 Jude Law………………………………………………………………Karenin

Aaron Taylor-Johnson…..…………………………………….Vronsky

Kelly Macdonald………….……………….…………………………..Dolly

 Matthew Macfadyen………………………………………………Oblonsky

Domhnall Gleeson………………………………..…………………….Levin

Ruth Wilson Princess Betsy…….……………..………………Tverskoy

Alicia Vikander………………………………..………………………….Kitty

 Olivia Williams……………………….…………………Countess Vronsky

 Emily Watson…………………………..…………………….Countess Lydia

Review: Directed by Joe Wright and written by Tom Stoppard, this version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is both lavish and well acted. Here within lies the conundrum, the film makers can’t seem to decide whether this is an experiment in cinema or an experiment in filmed theatrics.

The story unfolds inside a large theater that through a variety of both synchronized choreography and camera movement becomes Russia in the Imperial era of the mid 1900s.. For example the stage has lavish stage backdrops that depict various landscapes and cities, trains literally go in and out of the theater as it is transformed into a lavish looking train station, then like magic it transforms through rapid set changes into a seat of government or the home of Anna Karenina and her husband Karenin. It seems as each character appears and goes through a stage door some new set is waiting behind it. This experiment in cinema is very distracting when you are trying to understand who each new character is and how they are related to each other.

The time is 1874. Vibrant and beautiful, Anna Karenina has what any of her contemporaries would aspire to; she is the wife of Karenin a high-ranking government official to whom she has borne a son, and her social standing in St. Petersburg could scarcely be higher. She journeys to Moscow after a letter from her philandering brother Oblonsky arrives, asking for Anna to come and help save his marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). En route, Anna makes the acquaintance of Countess Vronsky, who is then met at the train station by her son, the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky. When Anna is introduced to Vronsky, there is a mutual spark of instant attraction that cannot – and will not – be ignored.

The Moscow household is also visited by Oblonsky’s best friend Levin, an overly sensitive and compassionate landowner. Levin is in love with Dolly’s younger sister Kitty. Inopportunely, he proposes to Kitty but she is infatuated with Vronsky. Devastated, Levin returns to his Pokrovskoe estate and throws himself into farm work. Kitty herself is heartbroken when, at a grand ball, Vronsky only has eyes for Anna and the married woman reciprocates the younger man’s interest.

Anna struggles to regain her equilibrium by rushing home to St. Petersburg, where Vronsky follows her. She attempts to resume her familial routine, but is consumed by thoughts of Vronsky. A passionate affair ensues, which scandalizes St. Petersburg society. Karenin is placed in an untenable position and is forced to give his wife an ultimatum. In attempting to attain happiness, the decisions Anna makes pierce the veneer of an image-obsessed society, reverberating with romantic and tragic consequences that dramatically change her and the lives of all around her.

Tolstoy wrote about Russian society, I think most people want Gone with the Wind romance. But why this was so deeply clever was that it cut to the real story which is NOT about a fallen woman, or love. It’s about how lust almost incidentally is the backdrop for the question between whether what is right is good, and in those days that meant religion and society. Keira being so exquisitely beautiful, all the more perfect for the imperfect eye teeth, brought a brittle doll like quality which, just like the sparten but beautiful set, underscored that this is NOT a story about a deep love and sensuality. It’s a story about right and wrong, spirituality, the soul and the meaning of life! Anna feels that lust is the answer to an existentially empty life, but she needs the theatre of society. The battle for her is the social v. lust. We can’t help but understand her plight. Brittle Keira makes the social dominate at the beginning and shatter like a china doll.

It is the acting that in fact redeems this movie. Jude law is steadfast as he battles with God’s law and the laws that society demand of him. He is never angry but never at real peace. There are a few familiar faces in the cast such as Emily Watson of Downton Abbey who plays Countess Lydia, and Domhnall Gleeson as Levin, who you may remember as Bill Weasley in the Potter movies.

Stoppard’s screenplay covers all the bases of Tolstoy’s vision of love, hate, sacrifice and remorse. What was missing for me in all the eye candy, was a real depth of emotion. Was this a masterpiece of cinema risk taking leaving behind the language of cinema story telling or was this a filmed theatrical with over the top melodrama? Don’t get me wrong there are genuine moments of brilliant acting and emotion, the problem is that the design and grandeur of the sets soon become a distraction.

The Blu-ray format enhances a textural movie such as this, the lush seems more luxurious, the colors are so vivid you feel you there watching the story unfold before your eyes.  Available on Netflix, Amazon and at the Red Box.

Recommended: camera-film-iconcamera-film-iconcamera-film-iconcamera-film-icon

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