Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina


Reviewed by: Caro Ness

This is a real treat. The Russian film industry has always excelled at making films from great books and this is no exception. One of the most famous novels to come out of Russia, Anna Karenina has been filmed for the screen many times before but I doubt with such loving attention to detail. The director places layer over layer to create a palpable depth to his film and to create a world that is astonishingly beautiful to look at.

The film juxtaposes the most incredibly lavish costumes and sets with difficult and challenging questions about the nature of a woman’s role in society and how others perceive her, the consequences of infidelity for women as opposed to men, and the terrible double standards that are applied to the situation.

The film apparently took 14 years to make and it is easy to see how and why. No detail is too much trouble, nothing is out of place, discordant or jarring; it is a film of seamless beauty. Much of it was filmed at Tolstoy’s estate, the stunningly beautiful Yasnaya Polyana, because director Sergei Soloviev believed it would inspire his actors and crew - and he was right. It is, surprisingly, the first film to use this location and there is something timeless about this piece as a result, due to the authenticity and quite exquisite magnificence of the estate.

Anna Karenina (Tatiana Drubich) is the wilful, beautiful wife of Karenin (Oleg Yankovsky), 20 years her senior. She meets the virile, handsome Count Vronsky (Yaroslav Boyko) when she goes to stay with her brother Stiva (Alexander Abdulov) who is estranged from his wife, Dolly (Ingeborge Dapkunaite) after having an affair with their children’s governess. Vronsky, prior to meeting Anna, is vying with Levin (Sergei Garmash) for the hand of Dolly’s younger sister, Kitty (Maria Anikanova).

The story is very familiar, including the famous opening lines that “All happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It is an extraordinary book for myriad reasons, not least that Tolstoy, from the moral high ground, set out to castigate his leading lady for her wayward life and ended up, much like Vronsky, falling in love with her. It is the tale of a woman asked to help save a marriage in crisis, who ends up ruining her own. It is a deeply moral tale. The shenanigans of Anna and her lover are starkly contrasted with the deeply honourable Levin and his loving relationship with the girl he eventually gets, his wife Kitty.

It is clear from the outset that Soloviev is in awe of Tolstoy’s towering achievement but he does try a little too hard to stamp his authority on the text and the visual depiction of it. He breaks it up into a series of vignettes with the use of voice-overs and inter-titles. This is distracting for the viewer, but nevertheless Soloviev’s achievement is still singular. This is partly due to the extraordinarily deep, lyrical, lush photography by Sergei Astakhov and Yuri Klimenko; experiencing this film is like stroking a handsome, lustrous piece of fabric. It is also due in large measure to the extraordinary performance of Tatiana Drubich as Anna, who more than holds her own against luminaries such as Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh who have previously played the role. I think the strength of this actress is that she has also pursued an equally successful career as a doctor of geriatrics and that a certain honesty and integrity in her performance infuses the film.

I urge you to go and see this film. Make your own mind up about it. This is one of my favourite Russian texts and Soloviev has remained very true to Tolstoy’s masterpiece.

Reviewed on: 08 Nov 2009
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Tolstoy's tale of a woman torn between her lover and her marriage.
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Director: Sergei Soloviev

Writer: Sergei Soloviev, based on the story by Leo Tolstoy

Starring: Tatyana Drubich, Oleg Yankovskiy, Yaroslav Boyko, Aleksandr Abdulov, Mariya Anikanova, Yekaterina Vasilyeva, Sergey Garmash, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Eduard Martsevich, Lyudmila Savelyeva

Year: 2009

Runtime: 140 minutes

Country: Russia


Russian 2009

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