I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Anna Karenina

A quick surf of the Internet confirms that adaptations of Anna Karenina are as thick on the ground as photos of Kate Middleton's breasts. So why another one? Jo Wright's new film of one of the classics of all classics is yet another unfortunate example of the failure of film to capture the essence of a great novel. Though it's not a tedious or boring film, I'll give it that — the lush and theatrical scenes (it's staged as if it were a play) sweep you  along exuberantly from one extravagant, highly stylised set to the next. It was only twenty minutes or so before the end that I started shuffling and fidgeting. Would that goddamn train never arrive? There'd certainly been plenty of anticipatory whistles and thrusting piston rods over the preceding half-hour.

Now, I've nothing against Kiera Knightley as an actress, though so far in her career I think she's been good rather than great. Here she plays a much shallower, more one-dimensional Anna than the one I remember from the Tolstoy novel, an Anna who is bored with her marriage and ripe for an infatuation. The infatuation happens. She gets brilliant sex for the first time in her life. And then becomes all neurotic — a part Knightley plays well, since it's a part she played in another of her recent films, A Dangerous Method (see my review of it here). I'm afraid I tired of her distorted mouth displaying strings of saliva between her teeth. But, hey, that's film for you! At least you can imagine this when reading the book. If you wish.

Wright adopts the interesting but bizarre technique of filming the novel very stagily, using numerous 'distancing' techniques which seem intent on alienating the audience from the characters. For what reason? Obviously he wanted to come up with a radically different framework — it must have been daunting to compete with all those other interpretations of one of Russia's literary masterpieces. However, this ill-conceived Brechtian approach leaves us up the emotional creek without a paddle. Do we identify with Anna or not? Have we any sympathy at all with Karenin, her husband? And Vronsky is definitely not the sexily handsome, compelling, more well-rounded character I recall from the book — or is my memory playing tricks? In the film he's portrayed as an effete and sometimes cruel dandy.

9 comments:

Bouncing Bertie said...

I saw the film last week and like you, was not bored until the last 20 minutes, but found it an unsatisfactory take on the great novel. Unlike many of my female peers, I actually rather like Keira Knightly, but I think she was miscast here - for starters I had always imagined Anna as a more, well, voluptuous figure. I was very impressed by Jude Law's Karenin, but the less said about Vronsky the better. I can understand why Levin's idealism would get short shrift in a film version, but, as ever, it does beg the question, why a film, when the book is so much richer.
Gail.

Rachel Fox said...

I miss almost all grown-up films these days... we're miles from a cinema... and when I do see anything it's usually chosen by a 12 year old. And on the whole I don't think I'm missing much!
x

Rubye Jack said...

I think I'll keep Anna as originally created by Tolstoy in my memory. I cannot, at all, imagine Keira Knightly as Anna. Maybe Angelina Jolie? Ha.

Dominic Rivron said...

Was it more interesting than this?

http://youtu.be/MK_SYtTbEqg

Laurel said...

Thanks for the warning, I had been considering watching this but I'm very much tiring of watching films and then thinking, "There's two hours of my time I'll never be able to get back."

Suman said...

Just what I had in mind! Not that I have seen the film yet, but Knightley's Anna just doesn't inspire me, not even in the trailers. Off all her movies, I feel "Atonement" is her best.

And then I stumbled upon this:
https://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/commentisfree/emma-brockes-blog/2012/sep/10/keira-knightley-anna-karenina

The Weaver of Grass said...

It is on in our local cinema at the moment Robert and I have been toying with the idea of going to see it but I really don't like the idea of it being staged in this way - after reading your crit I think I might give it a miss.

Goat said...

I have a free version of the book on my Kindle but so far have been too nervous to take the plunge. Not sure if it'll be my thing or not, and it sounds like it will demand commitment!

Kiera's mouth: yes. No wonder when I think of it I see a cigarette plunging into it as in 'Atonement'.

The Solitary Walker said...

That's well and truly put everyone off the film, then. Jo Wright must be seething! Talking of films, went to see 'Hope Springs' with Meryl Streep a few days ago. Quite good, I thought.