Friday, February 22, 2013

A Review: Anna Karenina

"But sin has a price. You may be sure of that." 
                                                                          --Alexi Karenin

At merely four minutes and ten seconds into the film, I smacked the right arm rest of my expensive black leather office chair and proclaimed aloud, "I'm sold! That's it: sold!"

I loved, loved, loved this wonderful ballet of a film. A lovely, graceful choreography so full of form, color and rich, dripping life.

Like a living, breathing thing, Anna Karenina floats on flights of fancy, dancing like a dervish spiriting through the air as a delectable delight. Like organs we have and the blood and veins that we possess, as one thing is closing, another is opening. As one curtain is moving another set is changing. All the while with the punctuality of a surgeon, the sets and backdrops switch and swivel as the actor's produce themselves into the frame directly on cue to appear perfectly at their mark. They then squander not a moment upon arrival delivering to us perfectly uncanny portrayals of the characters from Tolstoy's timeless classic.

At the blow of a whistle, the work day is concluded and a tuba and accordion player sound off and walk about. Whistling is the choice of the workers' swan song of their long day at work as they leave. A yawn literally adds to the song-and-dance-esque form of the scene. Stage make-up is worn and visible as an artistic choice. Penny Farthings are rode 'round. The camera catches all this as it slowly spins, and swivels and follows the matte paintings, backdrops and scene changes on the stage. Literally the stage.

This shot goes on for one minute and five seconds with no blink. There have been much longer "long takes" in history. But, with all the variables going on in that tiny minute, trust me when I say that only with the power of a master craftsman behind the lens could this have been accomplished.

Or another one that comes to mind. Where in the "theater" the only sound we have of the crowd watching the horse race is of Anna's fan at first, which beautifully transitions into the thunderous sounds of horses trumpeting, their powerful hooves pounding the ground inside the race. The sound then meets the "swish!" of every spectator raising their opera glasses to view the race closer. Then Wright switches back and forth between Anna being watched by Alexi while he is watching her watch Alexi race. The beats and two-n-fro execution is potently Scorsese-esque with a specific kind of tension. The kind that begins to stink and waft out into the open, where, fearfully, others might notice it's there.

We see the backboards and support beams of the backdrops. We walk through the atrium of the theater where the lower dwellers of society crawl. The up innards of the theater house as we see the ropes taunt and at the ready. Or hanging and pulling things onto the stage below. From the nest above we watch as the play ensues below us. Calling direct attention to itself: this is a film, in the style of a play, about a book, inside a film. Brilliant. Few and far between have choices as bold as this been made. And few and far between have choices as bold as this worked to such utter perfection.

Fantastically staged, blocked, shot and executed--Karenina is a sight to behold and sound to hear as the wonderfully operatic score by Mario Marianelli moves us forward. As Louie CK said in reference to his show, in the case of it being either funny, or dramatic, sad, or weird and surreal: "It's always very something."

Taking everything she knows and everything she has in the grasp of her idle hands, she throws it all the winds and snows of Russia to be in the arms and bask in the company of love. Her honor, husband, son, society, surroundings.

"Love. . ."
"Yes love."

I heard and read that many people found the unconventionality of this picture to be, uhm, rather unnerving and disagreeable. Too bad for them I say. For what is progress in culture if it's not evident at the picture show? Here's a peak a one person's view point via a prominent media outlet:
"About halfway through Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, the narrator becomes so omniscient he enters the mind of a dog, as her master orders her down the wrong hunting path. "'Well, if that's what he wants, I'll do it, but I can't answer for myself now,' she thought. She scented nothing now; she could only see and hear, without understanding anything."
It's the most extreme example of how much the near 1,000-page epic internalizes--most of the novel is spent winding through the inner recesses of one character after another's thoughts, and second thoughts. The dog's experience here--a fruitless exercise that favors the eyes and ears over the mind--is not unlike watching Joe Wright's film adaptation of Anna Karenina. Rather than try to engage with its characters' complexities, it busies itself with visual distractions that splinter off in every direction, save one that leads to a point."

Too bad. What if passion and power and desire missed and failed and attained and wanted were the Goddamned point of the film itself? For some want for it and never attain it. Some need it to survive and clutch to it with tightly wound fingers. Some see it slipping out of their grasps. "...a fruitless exercise that favors the eyes and ears over the mind" is exactly what this is. Make no mistake. We get inside Anna's, Vronksy's and Karenin's eyes and between their ears. All the information we need is there before us. This film is all feeling, all spectacle, all emotion and blind faith in the willy-nilliness of love and lifestyle, of dreariness and despair. And so is the book.

Hell, I'm even going for broke and giving you a cryptic review of the material in this review. Choosing only the potency of wonder this film invokes and the ensuing descriptions of it. Foregoing the details of the characters, the actors playing them, their backgrounds and connections and the filmmakers themselves.

The film, unfortunately does eventually slow down in the pacing of the one-two, one-two punching system of the highly stylized way it has with it's play-of-the-film-of-a-book-inside-a-film. But just when I thought it had nearly abandoned it, Wright ushers it back just when we were missing it the most--during the fall of Anna's grasp on. . . Anything. Everything.

Just in time I'd say. Swift like a scythe.

Munki out.

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