Anna Karenina, new film

This video is the Anna Karenina film official trailer (2012).

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

A new film version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina …

22 December 2012

Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright, screenplay by Tom Stoppard, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy

British filmmaker Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina is the latest cinematic adaption of the classic novel, published in installments from 1873 to 1877, by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910).

Collaborating with playwright-scriptwriter Tom Stoppard, Wright (Pride and Prejudice [2005], Atonement [2007]), in an unusual twist, has chosen to stage much of the film’s action under the proscenium arch of a gas-lit theater.

In late 19th century Russia, Tolstoy’s heroine Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) is married to pompous tsarist government official Karenin (Jude Law). As the film opens, Anna has been called to Moscow from her home in St. Petersburg by her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen), whose marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) is in crisis due to his chronic philandering. On the night train, Anna meets Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams), and soon after, her son, the dashing cavalry officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

The thunder-bolt attraction between Anna and Vronsky leads to an illicit affair, its intensity a measure of the former’s previous deep unhappiness and emotional suffocation. When she leaves Karenin for her lover, Anna becomes a social pariah. This fate differs markedly from that of her brother, who suffers only minor repercussions for his libertinage. And, despite his extra-marital liaison, Vronsky is able to move freely in Russian society, while Anna remains isolated and shunned, a dynamic that has tragic consequences.

A parallel story unfolds concerning Levin (Domhnall Gleeson), a country landowner, who pursues and marries Kitty (Alicia Vikander), sister to the long-suffering Dolly. Levin functions as the film’s moral compass. His simple lifestyle and monogamy are counterposed to the ostentatious trappings of the urban social set and its hypocritical double standard, which allows for breaking the law but not the rules.

Stoppard’s screenplay is an intelligent distillation of the Tolstoy novel. And given that there have been more than a dozen versions of the book filmed since 1914, including three made in the Soviet Union, in addition to various stage, television and radio productions and also looser adaptations (among them, a 2007 film interpretation from Kazakhstan), it is understandable that Wright would want to put his own stamp on the project.

He does so by corseting the drama within a stage set. In this claustrophobic space, actors, musicians, props and painted backdrops vie for the camera’s attention. This confinement occasionally opens up to the outside world, a transition used to highlight the difference between the untainted countryside and the cramped, dissolute city. The theatrical mechanism has a certain visual appeal, but it also underscores serious misconceptions regarding Tolstoy on Wright’s part.

In the first place, the artifice of the stage device tends to work in the opposite direction from Tolstoy, an arch-realist who drew incomparable pictures of Russian society by forthrightly “removing the veils” from life. This is a point worth considering for a moment. One of the greatest commentators on Tolstoy, Aleksandr Voronsky, wrote in On Art (1925):

“The realist writer [i.e., Tolstoy] does not dream up, invent or create fantastic worlds; he doesn’t engage in free play of the imagination, nor does he seek embellishments for their own sake. It is as if he were reading the secret code inherent in things, people and events. The goal of the artist is not to describe or tell a story masterfully and wonderfully. …

“There is no need to confuse the artist’s special gift of insight with the desire to strike the reader by producing a beautiful turn of phrase, a special style, or a totally new work of art. Such a desire usually leads to pretentiousness, deliberate overrefinement, excessive floweriness and artificiality. … Many contemporary poets and prose-writers commit this sin. They confuse the ability of the artist to see what no one else has seen with a desire to astound the reader.” This reads almost word for word like a criticism of Wright’s gimmickry.

Furthermore, the director’s deliberate reduction of space tends to stunt the movie’s dramatic flow, and hinders the psychological development of its protagonists. The characters, so beautifully drawn by Tolstoy, are severely truncated in the film, functioning as relatively impoverished figures. Much is sacrificed on the altar of Wright’s innovations.

In seeking to explain his artistic decisions, the filmmaker says in an interview that “the action would be taking place within a beautiful decaying theatre, which in itself would be omnipresent, a metaphor for a society of the time as it rotted from the inside.” (Apparently, it took some convincing to bring Stoppard on board with Wright’s vision.)

However, Russian society was not just decaying, it was also moving headlong towards a cataclysm, a fact artistically anticipated by Tolstoy.

14 thoughts on “Anna Karenina, new film

  1. Anna Karenina is one of my favourite novels By Tolstoy! I love the previous version with Sophie Marseau! And this was a surprise for me, I di not know that a new version is made. So thank you very much for informing, for sharing. Very useful and nice post, AS ALWAYS!



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  3. Boxing Day (15)

    Directed by Bernard Rose

    Thursday 20 December 2012

    by Jeff Sawtell

    Tolstoy’s Master And Man provides the inspiration for a modest message film about the cruel realities of capitalism.

    In it Danny Huston plays a property speculator who leaves his family on Christmas Eve to fly to Denver to do a deal.

    There he’s met by Nick (Matthew Jacobs) a British chauffeur with family problems who drives him around in the snow checking out foreclosed properties.

    The road to understanding is filled with an array of problems that force the men to relate to survive and sets us up for an explanation of what Boxing Day’s really about.


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