Now, perhaps I'm out of my element writing a review for "Anna Karenina" without having read the book, but I shall do so regardless. Many criticised this film because it did not follow the book, or omitted one thing or another. That is all well and good, but what feature-length film *can* capture the entire scope of a novel the size of "Anna Karenina"? I watched the older version with Greta Garbo and--though I cannot imagine why--it never truly caught my attention. This version, however, captured me from the start. And I am usually the first one to complain about what is wrong with a remake in comparison to the old version. A paradox, indeed.
This film first caught my eye because of Sophie Marceau. I admire her immensely as an actress, having seen her in several films, both French and English. Then, I recognised Bernard Rose as the director of "Immortal Beloved", a film I had enjoyed some months before, mostly due to a magnificent performance by Gary Oldman, some of the most glorious music caught on film.
The music, I can probably cite as one of the main reasons I loved this film. I can think of no better love theme for a doomed romance like that of Anna and Vronsky, than the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. The use of "Swan Lake" at various points was also wonderful, and the interplay during the scene at the ballet held me mesmerised. Vronsky speaks of Anna being trapped in her marriage as the Prince seeks to capture the Swan Queen. Perhaps I'm just rambling, but somehow that connected.
On the whole, the performances were good. Sophie Marceau was perfectly believable as Anna, and some of her scenes sent chills down my spine, though my favourite performance of hers still has to be "Firelight". Sean Bean had me worried for a few seconds, with a mannered reading or two, but improved quickly as the film progressed. Another reviewer pointed out that Vronsky was meant to be a shallower character than Anna, and now that I think back on it, I believe that is very true, and that Sean Bean's performance reflected this superficiality. Mia Kirshner was adequate--I didn't particularly care for her--but Alfred Molina and James Fox both gave fine performances (a standout for me was when Anna wrote Karenin from Italy and Karenin wavered before refusing to let her see Sergei).
However, equally on par with the actors, was the setting. Very few films, I have to admit, can look *so* beautiful. Especially the ballroom scene, with the seemingly neverending hallway of gilded doors, the location photography was spectacular. The costumes were stunning, and the cinematography made even snow seem alive. Even if you do not care for the story or the acting, this is a film to watch for visuals.
Thus, I believe that this film deserves far more credit than it received. I, personally, loved it for varied reasons, but I have to admit that what truly captured me was the way Bernard Rose can take an average script and transform it into a beautiful film using visuals and music. Very few directors take the time to put music and image together if they use classical scores (my favourites would be David Lean and John Boorman), and I believe Bernard Rose should be watched in the future. I should love to see what he would do with a film set in late 19th century Italy, when opera was at its height!
***1/2 out of ****