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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Anna Karenina (1997)

(aka: Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina)



Reviews and Comments

Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is given lavish treatment in this lush filmed version by director Bernard Rose. The cinematography and set design, and extravagant costumes are lovely and impressive to look at. That and the sweeping orchestral score, containing music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev, are almost worth the price of admission by themselves.

As far as the story itself is concerned, some pieces of it work and some don't. The central love story, between Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky, is compelling and tragic. Anna and the Count have an affair, causing much talk. Due to the double standards of the time, Vronsky may still hold his head high in society, while Anna is forced to stay inside and hide her shame. There's the matter of Anna's confused, unfeeling husband -- Anna's fight for a divorce and custody of their son is furious and futile. Sean Bean's portrayal of Vronsky, for some reason, didn't quite hit the mark for me. On occasion, I felt as if I were on the verge of understanding his character, but I never did. Sophie Marceau, in the title role, fared better. She makes the helplessness of Anna's situation is manifestly clear, and the tragedies in her life are moving, and the moments that foreshadow these are effective.

The movie fails, however, to do justice to the rest of Tolstoy's epic novel, involving among other things a secondary love affair between Constantin Levin and Kitty Scherbatsky. These plot elements are given too cursory a treatment and come off like an arbitrary soap opera. Parades of marriages, births, affairs, and family squabbles are ushered through one scene after the next, and Tolstoy's ideas and ideals are neatly avoided. One must cut slack, I suppose, for a film that compresses a novel of nearly a thousand pages into 108 minutes of screen time. On the other hand, I'd have preferred the screenwriter to have trimmed the novel's scope rather than its depth.

Is this movie version worth seeing? Yes, but just barely. Enough of the substance of the primary relationship is preserved to make the film meaningful, and as I mentioned before, the music and set design are fabulous. It's just too bad it wasn't fleshed out a little more.

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