Anna Karenina: Film version

Went to see the recent adaptation of Anna Karenina tonight. Before watching it I heard the whole thing was filmed in Keira Knightly’s front room, the train careers through and knocks her right over in the middle of dinner. No, that is, actually it’s created out of a Russian theater, with a few outside scenes intruding on the claustrophobic back stage/front stage set up. I really admired this in the beginning, and of course it fits in with Anna Karenina’s life being an empty spectacle which is for show, coming to it’s climax the night she goes to the opera and is the fallen woman, avoided, sneered at. The staging of it reminded me of Vanity Fair, that really self conscious construction of an imaginary world:

‘As the manager of the Performance sits before the curtain on the boards and looks into the Fair, a feeling of profound melancholy comes over him in his survey of the bustling place…..this is Vanity Fair; not a moral place certainly’ . Exactly felt like that set up at the start of the film, the bustle and the boards. Described as visually transfixing, the train is a toy train, the racing track passes through the stage, the lives of the upper class are a show.

I really enjoyed the colour coding, I thought the way they dressed Anna and Alexei Vronsky (lover) was really funny. He’s wearing white and she’s wearing black during their dance, what’s it all about? Does the black represent her mourning for her dead life and he is the resurrection? Not to mention she is always wearing dark colours while all the other women are wearing pastels, as if she is starkly different from the beginning, not content with the macaroon shaded lives the other women are settled down into. Then as soon as she appears as the fallen woman she is dressed in white, as though to protest her innocence, and of course Vronsky is in black, the guilty executioner. Then she appears smoking a cigarette in a scarlet dressing gown, the epitome of sin, I nearly swooned in my pale pink flounces. The veil she wears is always black though, shading herself with her sinful deeds. When she sees Vronsky with the young girl his mother wants him to marry, Anna is wearing her underwear plus that strange bouncy thing they would wear to make their skirts bob, the famous cage framed steel skirt (I looked it up), which always remind me of Frida Kahlo’s Pain and Passion painting. So she is obviously wearing the construction of her own femininity. Then her final dress is the scarlet one, the Scarlet Letter, the judgement.

I felt really constricted by the setting at moments, like I wanted to forget about it and concentrate on the story. But then other times I felt the emptiness of their world reflected well in the stage scenario. Their constrained world is full of their own voices echoing,  their own judgments. It seems Anna is driven to her deed by the echoes. Women are ‘fresh rolls’, for consumption.

I have read the novel, but only the once a while back. I remember Anna and Vronsky as having a lot of depth to their characters that it’s hard to convey in movie-land. The personal scenes in the movie felt strange as you were aware of how constructed the background was. I was glad the Levin character was there as some kind of relief to the the other settings, I don’t think the challenge Kitty faces in her marriage is worked through, and I found her declaration of love and his renewal of proposals really stiffly played out, with them using counters to ask one another. For the relationship with the most ‘understanding’ in it, it didn’t convey that understanding.

Overall though, it was fun.

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