Saturday, 15 September 2012

Anna Karenina 2012

It has been a while since I wrote a real opinionated rant, and not a trying-to-be-objective review, but this film has once again brought out the 'animal' in me...!

I have not read Anna Karenina, mainly because anything Tolstoy-related makes me imagine losing the rest of my life to reading one novel. And when there are so many films to watch, why lose your life to written words, I say?! So, this film seemed like the easy way to get my literary education. Instead, I got a theatrical one.

It is set like a theatre production. Stage hands appear and replace pieces of scenery and props, to create new scenes, while the camera watches. A character's walk through the back of the stage implies a journey through town to reach a different destination. Sounds and colours and gestures denote things more poignant than what is apparent. Etc, etc. It's all quite ingenious! And pretentious. And once you have gotten over the novelty of the very stylised film-making, it actually becomes very jarring. The antics around the actors become more than a little distracting, and admiration turns into annoyance. The cinematography is exquisite, though - and the perfect lighting and make-up contribute to some brilliant tight close-ups of the actors.

As for the actors themselves, well, what can I say about Keira Knightley, who plays the title character. It confounds me how successful she has become, with really very little to put her there - but I do have some theories about this:
Britain produces some extraordinary acting talent, and in British cinema conventional good looks are often not the main criterion for casting. Thus, the better-looking actors find themselves lured by better-paid jobs in a much bigger playground called Hollywood. Whether it's Christian Bale or Michael Fassbender or Tom Hardy - men whose good looks are matched by immense talent - they all made their global impact from the other side of the pond. But with the 'fairer' sex, Hollywood has had less luck with recruitment. After Kate Winslet, there have been few actresses that look good, act well and can become stars. Yes, there's Carey Mulligan, but she's not on a film-signing spree for some bizarre reason. Keira Knightley, on the other hand, has caught Hollywood's eye. Who cares if she can't act? She's got those bushy eyebrows, can stare vacantly at things and there are the ever-dependable pouty lip muscles she can exercise. She's the female Robert Pattinson! Also, she has that jutting jaw and high shoulders, that extremely eager, toothy grin - and best of all, she has a British accent and hurried diction, which come in handy for all period films, regardless of their original language. What else could an audience want?
Oh stop being pesky about the acting! We, the audience, are paying for her acting lessons, aren't we? Every time she gets cast in another film that we go and watch, she learns an extra expression, which she uses next time. That's thrifty of her.

In this film, Ms Knightley has employed her best stiff-body-and-multiple-pouts routine so well that some critics actually think she wasn't half-bad. That may be because they're comparing her acting to an even worse, wooden performance by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays Count Vronsky. If there's a saving grace in the main casting, it's Jude Law (seriously...can you believe that?) as Alexei Karenin. His portrayal of the character is sufficiently worthy of both pity and hatred, so a job well done, I guess. Otherwise, there's zero chemistry between any of the actors and every one just seems to be going through the motions at a rehearsal for a stage play.

Yet, despite all this negativity, I'm glad I watched Anna Karenina. I continue to be an admirer and student of cinema, and this film has definitely been created in a very unique manner - so it felt like going to school to learn some really boring, but essential theorems. Otherwise, the acting, the emotions, the characters, all left me fairly cold.

Avoid it, unless you too are afflicted like me.

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