20 February 2005 | RJBENNETT
Terrific, just plain terrific
According to an earlier review, this movie is supposed to be "just plan awful." The writer probably meant "plain" instead of "plan," and that misspelling may be an indication of the quality of the review.
There is much to be said for the viewpoint that this film version of Tolstoy's novel, starring Sophie Marceau, must certainly be one of the greatest versions ever produced.
Tolstoy himself lived to see just the beginning of the era of the motion picture and was said to have been fascinated by the possibilities the new medium presented. If so, he would no doubt have been quite astonished at the beauty and the extraordinary quality of this rendition of his story about Anna Karenina. The production values are among the highest there could possibly be. The costumes, the cinematography, and the sets unlike earlier versions, the film was shot on location in St. Petersburg and elsewhere in Russia are at such a remarkable level that the action almost does appear to be really taking place in the Czarist period at the end of the nineteenth century.
As for Sophie Marceau's mild French accent which the above-mentioned reviewer found so irritating it is quite likely that many upper-classes Russians of the period actually did speak with a French accent. It was not Russian but French that was the dominant language among the Russian nobility and aristocracy of the time for some, French was in fact their native language, since many of them never learned to speak Russian at all, except perhaps a few words and phrases they could use to communicate with the servants.
What is perhaps most remarkable of all in this film is the utterly believable way that the behavior of the of characters is presented. Their motives are suggested with great subtlety, not in the somewhat simplistic tones of the (nevertheless still magnificent) MGM version of the film that starred Greta Garbo seventy years ago. Anna's husband is not a monster, for example, in this new version, but a rather pathetic, right-wing government bureaucrat with obsessively strict moral values. Moreover, the portrayal of Anna's behavior throughout the film, and especially in the final scenes, is a masterpiece of sympathetic psychological insight and understanding.
This film is a for the time being, anyway neglected classic.