(2012, UK, d. Joe Wright)
One of the most under-appreciated filmmakers of this era is Joe Wright. His filmography includes Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Hanna – and now the epic Russian tragedy Anna Karenina. There is much to love about this film, for despite its historical setting, Wright and (godsend) cinematographer Seamus McGarvey infuse the world of St. Petersburg and Moscow with such rich color, movement, and interpretation, it becomes very easy to be swept away by the melodrama in the piece. The story of Anna Karenina sounds like a bore – like an out-of-touch movie by a filmmaker who’s become far too emotionally irrelevant. But I promise you: the film is anything but.
It’s a film that challenges you to interpret its own message. On the surface, it seems like a self-reflexive piece. We open looking onto a stage where the film itself begins to unfold. Oftentimes, entire scenes will transition as if we were watching a play – sets will rise, new sets fall into place as we are transported from an elegant ballroom in Moscow to the dreary Karenin mansion in St. Petersburg to a snowy train station somewhere in between. However, our initial guesses prove false, for as the film progresses, it becomes clear it’s simply hiding it’s own message under the guise of self-reflexivity. The sets begin to take on a deeper meaning. Open spaces tell whole stories.
My main critique of the film was that despite all the melodrama and passion, I wish we had delved into Anna’s obsession, love and downfall further than we did. The story was told perfectly well through its formal elements (don’t even get me started on the near-perfection the camera achieves) but I feel as if Keira Knightley was underused – like an eraser we never want to erase with as to keep its perfect look. For me, the audience was always looking at Anna, rather than looking out from Anna’s eyes. But perhaps, this was the intention. Regardless, Knightley’s performance is among the year’s most captivating.
Though not nearly as invigorating as Wright’s earlier Atonement, it seems as if he’s onto something here. I only hope this film’s inevitable mediocre-box office doesn’t limit the stories and resources he’s allowed for the future.