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ANNA KARENINA (2012)

SYNOPSIS:
In pre-Revolution Russia of 1874, Anna (Keira Knightley) has delivered a son to her high ranking Government official husband, Karenin (Jude Law) and her social standing in St. Petersburg is unequalled. On the train to Moscow one day, she meets Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams), who is met at the station by her son, the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Anna and Vronsky are instantly attracted to each other. Anna sacrifices her position as the highly placed social wife and mother to follow her heart to Vronksy, shocking Russian high society in the process. Their liaison is contrasted with the romance and marriage of two of their friends, Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who find increasing happiness and fulfilment over time.

Review by Louise Keller:
Joe Wright's astonishing Anna Karenina successfully marries theatrical staging with poetically styled cinema and gorgeous production design. As a result of this brilliantly executed innovative device, the film is a visual and emotional statement as Leo Tolstoy's novel (as adapted by Tom Stoppard) reinforces its 19th century Russian origins in its expose of love, lust and betrayal. The notion of love and desire is explored from all angles, while morality, scrutinised under the microscope of the times, is pitted as a counterpoint to sensual desire. The latter is considered to be greed. When Aaron Taylor-Johnson's dashing Count Vronsky murmurs 'You can't ask why about love,' he is stating the obvious to lovers throughout the ages.

Wright's vision in re-imagining this classic tale is conceptually brilliant, with a perpetual sense of motion as the theatre setting morphs into overlapping scenes before opening out into landscapes that are dramatic and memorable as those in Dr Zhivago. Music also forms part of the structure, with music an integral part of the film's workings.

In Keira Knightley (who he directed in Atonement in 2007), Wright has found his perfect leading lady: she photographs like a dream and is as alluring as a flame is to a moth. Knightley wears the exquisite jewels and costumes well, while cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (who also worked on Atonement) shows them all off beautifully.

The wheels of the miniature toy train on the theatre stage seamlessly turn to become the real thing, enveloped in snow, while sets evolve and open up as if by magic. The scene in which a man with a blackened face falls to his death under the wheels of the train, catches us by surprise - but the memory sticks. In the grand ball scene, when Anna Karenina (Knightley) and Count Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) dance together for the first time (she, wearing a backless black gown and glittering diamond necklace, and he, handsome in white uniform with epaulettes), there is one brief moment when everyone else in the room disappears, leaving them alone in their intense cocoon of lust. Their passion-filled love affair is portrayed like a beautiful painting.

As Anna's committed husband Alexei Karenin, who believes his wife is beyond reproach, Jude Law is a revelation. Almost unrecognisable behind a full beard, steel-rimmed glasses and a receding hairline, Law delivers a strong performance that is as replete with passion as it is minimalist. Love is criminal folly, he says at one point.

Such is Wright's statement that the film's potential problem areas - such as language and authenticity in terms of its Russian origins - are largely overcome. We are simply and inexplicably drawn into Wright's magnetic reality. There are a string of excellent performances: Olivia Williams as the Countess, who believes regret is better than not having anything to regret; Domhnall Gleeson as the love-sick Levin, Alicia Vikander as the subject of his love, Matthew Macfadyen as Anna's brother and Emily Watson as Countess Lydia.

The narrative flows as the trials and tribulations of the scandalous affair between Anna and Vronsky plays out, while the wheels of the train that journey from St Petersburg to Moscow rotate endlessly in the snow. The intensity and desperation of love plays dramatically and with great emotional resonance. In hindsight, there are even more pleasures to relive. You would be hard pressed to find a more ingenious, creative and satisfying version of Anna Karenina anywhere.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A unique fusion of theatre and cinema, Anna Karenina begins with a view of the stage curtain, reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain series of films, before the camera sweeps us into a production that is part stage production part film. The fusion is also manipulated to provide a surreal edge. But not even Baz has taken the concept to such lengths and such depth. Nor has David Lynch taken his surreal approach to a classic, love triangle morality tale from the natural world. Joe Wright's vision is unique and breathtakingly inventive, full of cinematic metaphors. This is cinema.

Seamus McGarvey's camera is occasionally a passive observer at other times a weaving, twirling magician while at other times it's an insistent visual dagger to which Dario Marianelli responds in musical kind. The natural world is bent to the imagination of the filmmakers and yet remains authentic and true to the human condition. This is cinema.

At times Wright uses a sort of magic realism (for want of a better term) to express emotional states, such as freezing all but the central characters in a scene, or making them disappear altogether. Most spectacularly, though, it's his seamless move from one medium (cinema) to the trappings of the other (stage) and even combining them that sweeps us into his world. Ironically, the novel is held up as a great work of realistic fiction.

There is a consequential benefit to Wright's moving us out of full blown naturalism; it suspends our dislocation with the culture generated by language; Imperial Russia never sounded so English - but it did sound French, the fashionable language to speak amongst the aristocracy. The screenplay is sprinkled with a few French remarks to capture this historical oddity. But the overwhelming cinematic impression is of a fantasy, a sense enhanced by the astonishing production design, from the costumes to the brilliant mise en scene in every moment.

If the production elements and the directorial vision were any less sophisticated and perfectly in tune, the performances would be just that; performances, in a period movie from a dead culture. In fact, the cast are placed in such a well defined cinematic concept that their characters readily become three dimensional. It helps that the actors are superbly talented - every one of them.

The three who play the characters of the love triangle - Keira Knightly as Anna, Jude Law as her husband the almost saintly Karenin and Aaron Taylor- Johnson as the passionate young Count Vronsky - each make us believe and feel. They all suffer, of course, and the tragedy unfolds as it has since Tolstoy wrote the much acclaimed novel. Tom Stoppard's adaptation of the complex and layered work is masterful and economical, yet thoroughly satisfying.

It may surprise us but Wright's edgy, bravura approach actually enhances the moral themes and the social context, illuminating the story in a fresh, contemporary light. This is cinema.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

ANNA KARENINA (2012) (M)
(UK, 2012)

CAST: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Olivia Williams, Kelly Macdonald, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Ruth Wilson, Matthew Mcfadyen, Emily Watson, Michelle Dockery, Holliday Grainger, Shirley Henderson,

PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Paul Webster

DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

SCRIPT: Tom Stoppard (novel by Leo Tolstoy)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus McGarvey

EDITOR: Melanie Olver

MUSIC: Dario Marianelli

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sarah Greenwood

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 7, 2013







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