Saturday, January 12, 2013

Anna Karenina (2012)

Anna Karenina / Anna Karenina. GB © 2012 Focus Features, LLC. PC: Working Title Films. P: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster. D: Joe Wright. SC: Tom Stoppard - based on the novel (1873-1877) by Leo Tolstoy - there are three Finnish translations, the first of them by Eino Kalima (1910-1911, many reprints). DP: Seamus McGarvey. PD: Sarah Greenwood. Cost: Jacqueline Durran. Hair and make-up designer: Ivana Primorac. VFX: One of Us. M: Dario Marianelli. Choreographer: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. S: Craig Berkey. ED: Melanie Ann Oliver. C: Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), Jude Law (Karenin), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Vronsky), Kelly McDonald (Dolly), Matthew Macfadyen (Oblonsky), Domhnall Gleeson (Levin), Ruth Wilson (Princess Betsy Tverskoy), Alicia Vikander (Kitty), Olivia Williams (Countess Vronsky), Emily Watson (Countess Lydia Ivanovna). Ball dancers and French theatre dancers. The extras are mostly Russians living in England. - Studio: Shepperton. Loc: England: - Ham House (Richmond-upon-Thames) - Hatfield House (Hertfordshire) - Miller's House (3 Mills Studios, East London) - Didcot Railway Centre (Oxfordshire) - New Forest (Hampshire) - Salisbury Plain -- Kizhi Pogost (Lake Onega, Karelia, Russia). 130 min. Released by Finnkino with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Minna Franssila / Markus Karjalainen. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki, 12 Jan 2013 (weekend of Finnish premiere).

Technical specs from the IMDb: - Camera: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2, Panavision E-, G-Series, ATZ and AWZ2 Lenses - Laboratory: Company 3, London, UK (digital intermediate), DeLuxe, London, UK - Film length (metres): 3549 m (7 reels) - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219) - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format) - Printed film format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

Лёвин should be pronounced "Lyovin" and should perhaps also be transliterated so, although the received transliteration is Levin.

I read the pressbook with 60 single-spaced pages with text only. There I learn that the approach of theatricalization came first two months before the start of principal photography, much after the finished screenplay by Tom Stoppard, but the dialogue in the screenplay was not altered. Joe Wright was inspired by Orlando Figes' Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (2002) "where he's describing St. Petersburg high society as people living their lives as if upon a stage. Figes' thesis is that Russia has always suffered from an identity crisis, not quite knowing whether it's part of the East or part of the West. During the period Anna Karenina was written in and about, Russians decided they were definitely part of Western Europe and that they wanted to be cultured like the French". Wright decided that “the action would be taking place within a beautiful decaying theatre, which in itself would be omnipresent, a metaphor for Russian society of the time as it rotted from the inside. Yet we would also adhere to Tom’s adaptation, with the story taking place oblivious to the artifice surrounding it."

The pressbook on the costume design: "Wright asked Jacqueline Durran to ensure that Anna’s costumes be in the style of 1950s couture, though still with the silhouettes of the 1870s.“ Anna’s image was to be one of pure luxury, befitting her status as a Russian aristocrat who wore French clothes. Durran notes, “Had nothing else in the production been stylized, we would have been out on a limb. But I knew this would fit in to the visual-feast approach within the theatre.” The costume designer’s research included looking at French fashion plates Balenciaga and Dior, and period photographs; the other characters, with the exception of Princess Betsy, would hew closer to the story’s time period. Durran comments, “I thought that Joe’s idea was genius because a lot of 1950s couture was itself looking back to an earlier time. We looked at some images from the time next to fashion pictures from the 1870s and although they were eight decades apart, the two periods meshed together very well."

Young girls of 10-15 years of age appeared in the cinema lobby in front of the Anna Karenina posters dressed in beautiful ball gowns, photographing each other with their mobile phone cameras, probably in order to publish the images immediately on their Facebook accounts.

My first impression of this balletic, theatrical adaptation of Anna Karenina in waltz time was that it is a version for very young girls. The movie cover edition of Leo Tolstoy's novel is prominently displayed in Helsinki.

I have nothing against an adaptation like this, especially if it inspires young people to read the best novel ever written. When I read it as a teenager I was too young to understand, but I was able to follow the plot and some of the ideas, and when I read it again much later I was grateful that I had read it as a teenager because the book read me and told me how little I knew then.

I admire Keira Knightley and her ambition to tackle the most difficult and challenging roles. But I have difficulty in accepting her as Anna Karenina - as I do with Greta Garbo, and Vivien Leigh. Anna Karenina is a well-established woman, a mature, intelligent, and balanced woman of the world, fluent in many languages, ordering cases of the latest books from England. She is also a red-blooded, passionate and full-figured woman whose natural feminine needs have been fatally neglected. Of the cinema's Anna Kareninas, Tatyana Samoylova is good, and although Alexander Zarkhi's film adaptation is rather anemic, academic and pedestrian (and chopped: I wonder if there is a long director's cut lurking somewhere in the vaults), there is a performance in that movie that is truly masterful: Nikolai Gritsenko as Karenin. Jude Law is interestingly cast against type as Karenin in Joe Wright's interpretation, and the final image is haunting: Karenin and Anna's two children playing in the fields after their mother has thrown herself under the train.

I like the chemistry of Domhnall Gleeson as Lyovin and Alicia Vikander as Kitty. The sequence with the letter bricks, the lovers guessing each other's thoughts via the first letters of words (THEN I DID NOT NOW) is powerfully moving. Tolstoy would have approved the touching interpretation of this scene which was based on his own proposal to his wife-to-be.

I like also Kelly McDonald as the long-suffering Dolly, and Matthew Macfadyen as his incorrigible, philandering husband Oblonsky. Also the other parts are well cast, but the incomprehensible casting decision remains that of Vronsky. He does seem like a gloss photo from little girls' romantic fantasies. In Tolstoy's novel he is a pretty sober, well groomed officer who wakes up from a somewhat superficial lifestyle into a full responsibility of his actions. The casting of Vronsky pulls the rug from under the entire love tragedy.

The artifice, the pastiche, and the unrealism are of course un-Tolstoyan, and for me they are distractions. This adaptation is not for me, but it inspired me to read a couple of Tolstoy biographies and Eino Kalima's memoirs - he got to meet Tolstoy while he studied in Russia, wrote one of those Tolstoy biographies while the writer was still alive, and finished an excellent translation of Anna Karenina soon after Tolstoy's death.

Seamus McGarvey on the cinematography in the pressbook: Anna Karenina was filmed with anamorphic lenses ... Theatre-style lighting was rigged for the duration of the shoot ... A net filter gives a sense of distance through the gauze of time, but it also smoothes over the edges, or the proximity that you have to these artificial environments. It's sort of blurred a little bit, which I think helps create a more painterly look ... we tried to enhance the image in a very physical way. The photography is not meant to be ostentatious; it's meant to have levity, to dance around and move with the drama.

The rich and warm visual quality is based on photochemical 35 mm film, and much of that quality has been successfully sustained in the digital intermediate. Because of the unrealism of the theatrical approach the aspects of digital feeling are not annoying, but even the nature looks denatured, and that does not contribute to the balance of the film (urbanity vs. nature).

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