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Anna Karenina

September 10, 2012

Unless this is the origin story for a very obscure Marvel superhero, I think it’s fair to say that this film marks the end of the Summer blockbuster season. I’m not that bothered. Time for a change…such as a film adaptation of a Russian classic.


Anna Karenina is a film adaptation of the book of the same name by Leo Tolstoy. It focuses on Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) as she torn between her stable but cold marriage to Karenin (Jude Law) and a chaotic passionate affair with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Through her story, the themes of love and infidelity, amongst are explored.

Having not read the book, I can’t tell how faithful the film is to the book (but Wikipedia suggests a fairly strong correlation). What is most striking  about the film is the presentation. The entire story unfolds inside a theatre, with different scenes taking places on stage, the gallery and rafters, and elsewhere. However, the action is not confined to the physical constraints of the theatre with scenes spreading out over railways, country estates and the Russian countryside. The formal style of the film-making explicitly keeps us from getting too close to the characters, while the loose grip on setting makes the most of the medium.

At the same time as we’re kept at a distance, a preponderance of close-up shots gives us the full emotion of the characters. From a technical perspective, this is a very cleverly made film. The distance the film puts between the audience and characters makes us more objective viewers of the various love affairs and scandals.

Perhaps. I’m not a film student.

As well as the filmography, the acting is very strong as well. I know some people are not keen on Keira Knightley but in my opinion she gives a very credible performance. That said, she is well inside her comfort zone of period drama. Jude Law is impeccable as the pious but cold Alexei Karenin, juxtaposed by Aaron Tyler-Johnson’s rakish Vronsky. My personal favourite moment was a touching and tentative conversation between Levin and Kitty, told with a child’s alphabet blocks. It’s a shame they’re relegated to sub-plot status.

This is a very smart film, and is certainly worth a watch. The lack of action won’t be to everyone’s liking, and for those who do enjoy the relational drama, I found the pacing to be a bit sluggish. However, after a summer of The Avengers, Amazing Spiderman, and The Dark Knight Rises (Oh, and a film where Abraham Lincoln kills vampires), this will serve as a refreshing palette cleanser for the lean winter months.

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