Thursday, 13 September 2012

The new Anna Karenina Movie : A remarkable achievement!

My sympathy lay with Karenin himself, and by the time Anna threw herself under the train I was relieved indeed, she, or rather Keira,  had been getting on my nerves for some time. In fact, I nearly left the cinema to throw myself under a train.
Here was pedigree too : Tom Stoppard the screenplay writer and Joe Wright the director.
How could they have reversed every reader’s feelings since the great novel appeared in 1878?
The reader puts the novel down, upon completing it, with a profound sense of both fate and chance in the affairs of men and women. For some, Anna was bound to end up under the train the minute she set eyes adulterously upon Vronsky – for Tolstoy himself, certainly. But for others, the novel has the breadth and depth of real life, it is complex and ambiguous, and all possibilities exist until they are consumed by choices or accidents.
The tone or mood of any film that attempts to capture or -  why not, it’s a movie – amplify the emotional range of this subtle and emotional novel must surely exclude the light hearted frippery of vaudeville theatre or the carousel of the fairground for the majority of its scenes.

The techniques jump around in patronising style – real life settings for the good Levin living authentically in the countryside, cutting hay with his peasant workers from Yorkshire; a theatre stage for the ‘artificial’ courtly life of the city and model trains to get them from one to the other. Spare me the symbolism of the pumping train rods driving the wheels of fate!

When, for just one example, the film cuts to a model train rushing through the snow, my disbelief is no longer suspended and I am jolted back to wondering about the technique. T.S Eliot said, of poetry, that technique should be as a transparent material over the meaning of the poem, serving only to make clear the meaning. Hear, Hear, and this applies for movies too.  
In this effort, the technique kept jumping up out of the tale, distracting me and snapping any empathy with the characters or attention on the unfolding plot.
Vronsky was played as a toy boy lover, but Anna was played merely as a sexually and romantically frustrated young married woman – I would have been less surprised if she had taken an older lover, not the fop that sashayed around this set, pouting his lips and smouldering his eyes at every woman whose hand he kissed. He was on his knees kissing hands throughout the film – I wonder there weren’t patches on his knees.

Oblonsky as the thoughtless and jolly voluptuary and adulterer was superb, except that I’m sure he was genuinely upset by his loyal wife’s discomfiture, uncomprehending, not cruelly dismissive as he is here, but I at least enjoyed his company in the film.
Levin bored me to rigor mortis and Anna was irritating throughout. Karenin elicited sympathy. No wonder he clicked his fingers. I’d have pulled mine out completely if I’d been stuck with this Anna. The film concludes with Karenin as the virtuous victor, but despite our sympathy for him,  we don’t feel he quite deserved this prize.
Kitty, Levin’s child bride, managed a metamorphosis from giddy teenager to wise matron we know not how.
If you had not read the novel you would have been baffled by this version on the screen.

If you had read it, like me, you were forced to conclude that it achieves something remarkable indeed : it bores and frustrates and there was not a wet eye in the house.
No, honestly, I never got close to a single tear.
It would take a heart of stone, as Oscar Wilde said of the death of Little Nell, not to laugh at the conclusion.
And that is a very remarkable achievement! 

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