November 16, 2012

Timeless Anna Karenina: Love, Disgrace & Fashion of 19th-century Russia

What is it about Anna Karenina that gives it special status among the great novels? There's not a single novel in the world that hasn't been made into a movie as much and often as this Russian classics by Leo Tolstoy. 

How is it that a sensational romantic tragedy of tsarist high society that talks about a relatively common situation - love, passion, disgrace, extramarital affair, and etc. described so artfully in a 900-page book, still provokes both excitement and respect from readers from around the world? Could any of the film directors and/or screenwriters ever do full justice to Leo Tolstoy's great novel? 


Here's a thing about watching Hollywood movies made based on the Russian classics - they've done it many times - [especially the epic novel "The War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy] - and it was never any good. As one of the Russian novelists put it: "One has to have a Russian soul to understand the Russian classics, written by the likes of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov..." 

Based on what I've seen in the films made by non-Russians, the only film I was ever satisfied with was the American-European version of Dr. Zhivago - it was a perfect vision and understanding of the film. I've been really hesitant to see the new "Anna Karenina" and planned on NOT seeing it, just as I didn't see the first, second, third, fourth and so on versions of Anna Karenina movies, even when my favorite Sophie Marceau starred in it in. 

Many great actresses around the world attempted to portray this complex Russian character, but I've got yet to see at least one of them who can compare and/or at least come as close to the superb acting of Tatiana Samoilova - once you see her in the role of Anna Karenina, you wouldn't be able to picture anyone else in it. She was just a perfection - everything that you'd imagine for Anna Karenina to be like when you read the novel, including the fact that Samoilova, aside from matching the exact looks of Anna Karenina, she is one of the greatest Russian actresses ever and - the winner of the Cannes Film Award for her earlier film "The Cranes Are Flying" - one of my other favorites. Samoilova absolutely nailed the character and made it one of the greatest Russian movies ever made. Even some of the Russian versions were not good. "Anna Karenina" is among the Russian classics that is very hard to make to a movie. 

However, in this particular case - I'm actually going to see it, and for the following reasons: 
1. The director followed the 'theatrical' directing and setting for the movie, which most of the times means - it requires some serious acting. 
2. The set design - I hear it's beyond beautiful and 'authentic'. I'd like to see what they mean by the interior/exterior designs of Leo Tolstoy's classic being authentic. 
3. And last, but not the least - I want to see the costumes! 

From what I've seen so far - the costume designers of the movie went out of their way to make this movie such a spectacle in terms of the characters' costumes, especially, the lavish gowns, hats and accessories of 19th-century Russia.


The props - set, costumes, make-up, etc. - are the components of the film-making process that I always enjoy - the film might suck, but the costumes might be great. [One of my favorites - Moulin Rouge].

By the way, those who enjoy historical films for their costumes and set designs more than their plots needn't wait to get in on the 19th-century glam, you can now get the Anna Karenina looks!

Banana Republic came up with its own Anna Karenina Line. This Tolstoy-inspired line is now available in stores, complete with faux fur, feathers and lace.

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