Anna Karenina movie poster. The Enchanted Waltz
Stars: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Michelle Doggery, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams and Emily Watson
Director: Joe Wright
Scriptwriter: Tom Stoppard from the Leo Tolstoy novel
Composer: Dario Marianelli
Cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey
Choreographer: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Focus Features/Working Title Productions
Rating: R for sensual scenes and themed material
Running Length: 129 Minutes
Anna Karenina is one of the most beautifully photographed films this year without using special effects. Yes, Anna has been filmed before, the memorable ones being Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh. Now, Kiera Knightley takes on the role of Anna and a doomed love affair. Under the guiding hand of director Joe Wright, this “Anna Karenina” is a don't-take-your-eyes-off-the-screen-or-you-will-miss-something kind of movie. Oscar, are you watching?

I see this portrayal of Anna as a woman with AADD. She can't seem to focus on any subject for any period of time, has mood swings and is misunderstood by the Russian class system into which she is married. Husband Karenin (Jude Law) treats her like a favored pet, going with her whims and slightly flirtatious, rebellious behavior like a naughty child, then offers mild scolding. Keeping Anna in a child’s aspect prevents Russian society from seeing a woman with emotional problems who is slowly beginning to unwind with no help available. Her one love is her child, Serozha (Oskar McNamara). Enter Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) with blonde, curly hair who proceeds to mesmerize and be mesmerized by Anna. This is, indeed, love at first sight. The problem is that another woman, Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander) is smitten with Vronsky, and in one spectacular dance scene, Kitty finds herself alone and adrift in a sea of dancers while Vronsky and Anna captivate each other. As their affair becomes public, Anna leaves Karenin and continues to spiral slowly downward, achingly in need of help, but no one is there.
Along with this love story is another that rings quiet and true against the rich extravagance of old Russia. Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen in a humorous role) is everyone’s friend, and especially to Levin (Domhnall Gleeson), a rebel with no social graces, who is smitten with Princess Kitty. Just when it seems as though Kitty and Levin will never generate a spark, there is an unusual occurrence that brings them together, and to his amazement, she grabs the event and runs with it. Kitty has fortitude.
What makes this Anna so interesting is the way it is filmed. Anna’s story is set in a theatre, so when a person has gotten dressed and goes through a door, they are on a stage in front of an audience, as a performer and vice versa. While the Kitty/Levin romance is filmed in the countryside with sunlight, fields, trees and no artificiality. The logistics and editing of putting this film together is akin to a field battle plan. Down to the micro-second, everything must be in its place. The ballroom scenes are meant to convey the story in dance and without words, thus the actors are performing dancers, too. One dance in particular with parallel hand action is spectacular. With lush costumes and a rich background,  in a society where language can be a hindrance and sometimes misunderstood, “actions do speak louder than words.”
What about Jude Law, the Karenin who maintains the spelling of that name as head of his household?  Law gives us a man filled with pride, who treats his wife as a pampered pet and can't see that some unbending on his rigidity would have helped. One begins to wonder if he was sorry he ever married Anna.
Kiera Knightley’s performance is stellar as Anna. She isn't beautifully dressed all the time, and her sometimes shallow behavior is part of her emotional wrought, which comes through in hand motions and eye movement. It is an intense performance, but it isn't until the latter part of the film that Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance as the younger Vronsky meets Knightley’s intensity. Matthew Macfayden as the purposely humorous Oblonsky relieves tension at the right moments, and his handling of the serious Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) are lessons in tact. As Kitty, who shows unexpected backbone, Alicia Vikander, anchors her scenes in the countryside.
This version of “Anna Karenina” is a treat for the eyes, ears and mind. All eye candy is too sweet a confection and, here, the mind is engaged with performances, play-within-a-play, Russian countryside and the intricacies of a rigid society in which women have little or no rights. They are simply arm candy to be observed, not touched and placed on a shelf when of no more use. As befit’s the Russian aristocracy about which the book by Leo Tolstoy was written, this film version of Anna Karenina shows us that the players on their stage of life were, indeed, locked in time.
Copyright 2012 Marie Asner

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