Earlier this year I went along to see two films and if you know me well enough then you will know that "Warhorse" and "The Artist" were not the type of films I ordinarily would go see, however once I'd seem them it was a case of asking the attendant at the cinema for some tissues due to what I perceived was a sudden infestation of flies in the cinema resulting in them dive bombing into my eyes!
With the above experience still fresh in my mind, I went along to see a great film that opened my mind to the world of the "Bourgeoisie" of Russia, before it all came crumbling down on the nation.
So people, come along with me on a journey that will show you the world populated by Anna and her socialite family and friends....
Now "what's it all about Alfie?" (As the opposite class of the Bourgeoisie would say!) I will try and explain because it isn't a complicated plot rather very detailed as you would imagine from the man who gave the world the epic "War and Peace" which is a huge read for those who are used to being informed by the British red top newspaper called The Sun (if you're from the UK then you’ll know what I'm talking about, however if you're not then it's the type of paper that if it wasn't so abrasive in it's textural quality it would make a great alternative to bog roll aka toilet paper!).
The plot of the novel
Published in 1873, Anna Karenina is the tale of a disgraced, adulterous married woman, set in a nation on the cusp of great change.
Anna is portrayed as a sensuous heroine who based on her life choices is imprisoned by society and by her husband.
However in the film she is more of a villain but not in an obvious way. For example when she meets a socialite on a train journey who had been embroiled in societal scandals, the woman mentions to Anna that isn't it better to have done it then regret doing it rather than to not have done it and regret not doing it? Anna replies with an answer that demonstrates her lack of experience in this area or disapproval? We the film viewer cannot make an informed opinion at this juncture to lack of sufficient evidence.
In the film Anna Karenina is played by the excellent and so accomplished actress that is Keira Knightly and is seen as a wife, mother and an upstanding member of ruling/upper classes. Her husband Alexi Karenin is brilliantly played by Jude Law who is excellently reserved in the role. Let me try and explain the difference in their surnames.
In Russia to denote a female, when the Husband's name ends in a consonant, an "A" is put on the end so Karenin becomes Karenin"A" (just saying).
Alexi is a stiff Petersburg bureaucrat, fond of cracking his knuckles. (Tolstoy is an astute observer of body language and the stories he believes it can tell). The novel charts Anna’s escape with Vronsky, who is a wealthy, handsome cavalry officer. But her freedom quickly becomes another prison, one in which Anna ultimately loses herself completely.
The novel’s power lies in its vivid, unpredictable characters: Karenin is emotionally cold but in one unexpected moment sobs like a child, warmly forgives both Anna and Vronsky – and then refuses to grant her a divorce.
When watching this film, I felt it had elements of another film called "Crash" such as several mini stories where the individuals pass through each others lives, subtly.
It’s also a novel/film driven by contrasts. For example you have the wholesome domestic life achieved by Kitty, the younger sister of Anna’s brother’s wife, with Konstantin Levin, a farmer (and Tolstoy’s spokesman it appears in the film-Think Alfred Hitchcock or Stan Lee/marvel films putting themselves into their movies), is set against the destructive lust that brings Anna and Vronsky together. The artificial lives of Europeanised aristocrats in Moscow and St Petersburg – these Russians only speak Russian to their servants; to everyone else they speak French and just like the film Crash we do get to see the authentic lives of peasants scything in the countryside.
When you go to watch this film you will see that it explores themes of hypocrisy, jealousy, faith, fidelity, family, marriage, society, progress, carnal desire, passion and the belief that land should be equally divided amongst all and not owned by one in contrast to the lifestyles of those in the city who felt that they were above all others and thought everyone else was beneath them. (Bourgeoisie- rich, Plebs- landowners/lower classes).
The film is similar to the novel however do be mindful that the book is very detailed and consists of over 864 pages, the film is a condensed version but is still like the novel it's based on as it is a masterpiece.
All the characters that I've mentioned are Oscar shoe-ins.
It's been said that Tolstoy who wrote about Russian life was a Christian, he wasn't judging or being judgmental in his depiction of his characters rather he is just showing you a time just before the revolution of Russian life. However having said that, another reviewer pointed out that they felt Tolstoy wrote into this work the logic that "no one may build their happiness on another's pain" hence the ending.
The Character Levin is often considered as a semi-autobiographical portrayal of Tolstoy's own beliefs, struggles and life events. Tolstoy's first name is "Lev", and the Russian surname "Levin" means "of Lev". According to footnotes in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, the viewpoints Levin supports throughout the novel in his arguments match Tolstoy's outspoken views on the same issues. Moreover, according to W. Gareth Jones, Levin proposed to Kitty in the same way as Tolstoy to Sophia Behrs. Additionally, Levin's request that his fiancée read his diary as a way of disclosing his faults and previous sexual encounters parallels Tolstoy's own requests to his fiancée Sophia Behrs.
Russian life was very complicated but simple if you adhered to the rules. In this day and age when a person requires a divorce it's quite a simple process if they both agree and even if they don't, the process doesn't involve either party being sent to Coventry or the Gulags if we're gonna be culturally accurate but what of the times? Who best to tell us than someone connected to the writer...
S. L. Tolstoy (the son) wrote:
"Divorce before the revolution was subject to complicated, humiliating and expensive procedures. By the law then in effect, the following three situations may serve as ground for divorce: physical disability of spouses, a spouse who has been missing for five years and adultery. When the first two conditions were not met one had to resort to the third. But for the legalization of a divorce, adultery was to be directly and legally proven. Then the innocent spouse was entitled to enter into a second marriage and to the custody of their children, whereas the offender was deprived of these rights. The Karenins’ divorce, therefore needing to prove the infidelity of Anna, who would then be deprived of the rights to her son and to a second marriage (to Vronsky), or Mr. Karenin admitting to a non-existent guilt. This admission of culpability had to be verified by diocese officials notorious for their corruption. The innocent Karenin had to participate in the charade of adultery with some hired woman, and bribed eyewitnesses were required to provide irrefutable testimony. Then he, and not Anna, would be deprived of the rights to his son and to a second marriage. This procedure was illegal; however, it was often practiced."
Style and influence
Also of significance is Tolstoy's use of real events in this novel, to help the story have elements of truth even though the main characters and story is fictional. Characters in the film debate significant socio-political issues affecting Russia in the latter half of the nineteenth century, such as the place and role of the Russian peasant in society, education reform, and women's rights. Tolstoy's depiction of the characters in these debates, and of their arguments, allows him to communicate his own political beliefs. Characters often attend similar social functions to those which Tolstoy attended, and he includes in these passages his own observations of the ideologies, behaviours, and ideas running through contemporary Russia through the thoughts of Levin. The broad array of situations and ideas depicted in Anna Karenina, allows Tolstoy to present a commentary on his era's Russia, and, by virtue of its very breadth and depth, all of human society. This much stylised way of writing gave the film makers a rich tapestry from which to create this artistic film.
Money issues besetting the film adaptation
There were also money worries. The budget for Anna Karenina was £31m which though it sounds like a lot of money it is only £4m more than what (the soon to be Sir) Danny Boyle spent on the Elite's homage to Lucifer and the NWO that is the Olympic opening ceremony (but I digress).
The script/screenplay was written by Sir Tom Stoppard and featured locations from all over the world from Moscow, St Petersburg to remote villages.
Apparently there were 246 scenes set in locations as diverse as an ice rink, the race track and the opera house.
This obviously increased costs which were going to make the film too costly.
The solution? Read on...
The guy who has directed Keira in Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and now this is the celebrated period piece Director Joe Wright he wanted to make a film that was pushing the boundaries of the senses, something (in his own words that would be "bold and extraordinary."
So what they've done is base the film as a play held in a dilapidated theatre where the scenes move from location to location. I have to say that the idea works on every level from having a horse race using real horses, walking on snow ice wastes to great places. They create the illusion that you are watching a staged performance from multiple locations. It's hard to explain what they've done and how they've done it but the illusion alone is worth the admission money.
Now to the dancing scenes. Again, if you know me then you'll know that putting “Baby” in the corner is what I'm into when it comes to dancing. I hate the lot. West side story, "Step up" should be called "Sit down Fool" and as for "Strictly Come Dancing", my retort to that is "Luv, where's the remote?" However the ballroom dancing bits blew me away to the degree I even googled to see if there were any classes available to reformed dance bigots with matching feet!
Amazing choreography and great use of hands! Seriously do watch it for the dance bits alone.
The wardrobe was as equally impressive. It reminded me of the fashion that pop bands used to sport in the 1980s that was called "New Romantics" i.e., Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and all the other flamboyantly dressed peeps of that era. The historical period for the film is the 1870s and as I previously mentioned the influences, add to that list the iconic style of Vivian Westwood.
Anna Karenina is a triumph, a masterpiece and deserves to be celebrated with a great box office and a few, nay, a handful of Golden Busts of my mate Oscar.
A great film that interprets a great book very sympathetically.
See it before they take it off for some film that will get rave reviews from paper that needs recycling and made softer to have any truthful and useful meaning to or lives…
"what's the 411?"
you know it makes sense........
Article by @gmanzen / 10th September 2012
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