The Kreutzer Sonata

The Kreutzer Sonata


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It's a very brave, or possibly rash, director who begins a film with the ending. When a man walks into a room with blood on his hands and phones for an ambulance, it's clear that there will be tears before credits-time. And when there are only three main characters in the film, it's pretty clear whose tears and blood they will be from a very early juncture. The question then remains, is there enough dramatic tension elsewhere to hold the interest of an audience who knows where the climax lies?

Danny Huston is Edgar, the man with the blood - and another of those bloody annoying voice-overs that leave you narrated to death (see also Elite Squad). Edgar tells the story of his life going off the rails. This is loosely based on Leo Tolstoy's book of the same name and Beethoven's Sonata of the title recurs frequently throughout. We hear how Edgar met his beautiful piano-playing wife (Elisabeth Röhm), and fell for her despite the fact she was with another fella and then, how some years later he comes to be increasingly jealous as she forms a musical partnership with a violinist (Matthew Yang King). Is the sonata the only beautiful music they're making or is seduction another string to his bow?

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Huston and Röhm are believable and committed as the man and wife at the centre of this steamy affair. There is sex aplenty and it is captured in a full and frank manner, and feels much more convincing than that seen in many US films. It's great to see Röhm - most familiar to UK audiences from her recurring role in Law And Order - in such a large part and she brings a fragile determination to her character.

At the beginning of the film, intertitles tell us that Tolstoy, painter Ilya Repin and actor V Andreyev-Burlak discussed the possibility of a multi-disciplinary response to Beethoven's Sonata. Tolstoy would write, Andreyev-Burlak would read, while Repin would illustrate it. This feels like writer/director Bernard Rose's attempt to accomplish what they never did, since Tolstoy was the only one who kept to the bargain.

This means, though, the story is Tolstoy's; Andreyev-Burlak's role is represented by the voice-over; with the Repin-style illustration coming in the form of segments from Edgar's life. Certainly a worthy idea. The voice-over even works well to begin with, deftly demonstrating the division between what Edgar perceives to be true and what actually is. So, for example, he claims "I shuddered with rage and terror", while we see him doing no such thing, but rather flipping to the porn channel on a hotel TV. This idea of the shifting sands of perception and memory beg exploration but, rather unfortunately, the film ends up proceding down a much more well-worn track, with the action too familiar for its own good.

As the film progresses the voice-over - and, indeed, the music - begin to compete far too much with the action. The acting and the scene direction have a delicate, organic feel that is stomped all over by the narration and noise. That which should be tense, is rendered slightly cheesey. Still, this is very watchable, thanks to Huston and Röhm's intense on-screen chemistry, although there is always the sense of a much better film just dying to break free from the conventions this one is tied up in.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2008
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A husband's jealousy threatens to drive him mad.

Director: Bernard Rose

Writer: Lisa Enos, Bernard Rose, Leo Tolstoy

Starring: Danny Huston, Elisabeth Röhm, Matthew Yang King, Anjelica Huston, Julia Sandberg Hansson, Kinsey Packard

Year: 2007

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: USA


EIFF 2008

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