‘Anna Karenina’: A watchable classic

By Troy Ribeiro

Film: “Anna Karenina”; Director: Karen Shakhnazarov; Cast: Elizaveta Boyarskaya, Maksim Matveyev, Kirill Grebenshchikov, Vitaliy Kishchenko; Rating: **1/2

“In love there are several truths.” This declaration at the beginning of the narrative affirms that Leo Tolstoy’s classic “Anna Karenina” has been revisited many a times — in theatre, television and also the big screen. Each version or adaptation has been as intriguing as the last release.

For the uninitiated, this classic story is of doomed love between Anna Karenina, a married woman, and Vronsky, a handsome count. The story is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable and magnificent woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.

Director Karen Shakhnazarov’s narrative is presented through Vronsky’s point of view. Set in the aftermath of one of the battles of the Russian-Japanese war in 1904, in a remote half-destroyed Chinese village in Manchuria, the head of the hospital Sergey Karenin learns that the wounded officer Count Vronsky is the person who ruined his mother Anna Karenina.

With an open heart and harbouring no illusions, Karenin approaches Vronsky and asks him the questions that have been tormenting him all his life after she left him: What made his mother, who was affluent and had everything going for her, take such a tragic and terrible path?

After some hesitation, Vronsky agrees to tell the story of his tragic love for Anna Karenina, observing that people remember only what they choose to remember. He states, “She did not run to Vronsky but she ran away from Karenin.”

Then immersed in the past, Vronsky begins to reassess the story of thirty years ago and finally comes to realize that for many years he has been in the grip of the bygone events.

While the story is enthralling, the film is dispassionately mounted. The war setting adds an aura to the narrative. It creates the right tension about life, but unfortunately here it fails to create an impact.

The performances though compelling, fail to touch an emotional chord. Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Anna Karenina is elegant and remarkable. She has a whole range of emotions to display, but in certain scenes, she seems dramatic and off-cue.

Maksim Matveyev as Vronsky steals your heart with his striking features. He plays the tormented lover, the underdog in the story with apt precision. You do feel sorry for him, when Anna is being unreasonable with him.

Vitaliy Kishchenko plays his part with aplomb as Anna’s husband Karenin who tries to hold on to his marriage. He is limited with minimum screen space. Similar is the case of Kirill Grebenshchikov. He plays the part of Anna’s grown up son Sergey Kerenin, who is the prodder to the narrator.

The production values of the film are fabulous, but oft seen. Visually, the film is aesthetically mounted and the era is perfectly captured. The war scenes are live action shots sans any computer generated images. While the music enhances the viewing experience, it is the English dubbing that is an issue.

Overall, the film is entertaining enough to give you a feel of the classic.

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