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Slow Train Coming

Anna Karenina
Keith Hamshere

Rail-Life Drama: Anna Karenina (Sophie Marceau) gets ready to hop a freight in the film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's famous novel.

Every unhappy movie is bad in its own way

By Richard von Busack

THE (AT LEAST) SIXTH FILM VERSION of Anna Karenina is whimsically titled Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina--as opposed to Maurice Shapiro's Anna Karenina, you guess. Not having seen Jacqueline Bisset as the suffering adulteress in the 1985 television version (with Christopher Reeve as Vronsky!), I'm in no position to say whether Sophie Marceau is the worst yet in the part. Marceau is neither a dazzling beauty nor a particularly adept actor. She has almost no control of her voice, and she depends on one sulk for a great deal of communication: I miss Russia, I miss my son, I miss going to the opera. Eventually, you look at her jewelry and not at her face, just to avoid that hanging lower lip.

As Vronsky, Sean Bean, last seen as the anti-Bond in Goldeneye, projects a count as trustworthy as a door-to-door salesman, though after watching Anna hitting the laudanum and crooning to a doll, Vronsky seems justified in keeping his distance. Director Bernard Rose (Candyman) leads a cast of second-raters, among whom James Fox stands out like a colossus. His Alexi Karenin at least seems continental. In an English-language movie about Russians, he's the only one who has sense enough to roll his "r"s--and he doesn't overdo that either. Fox radiates the sad, absurd dignity of the cuckold, the pride that covers the wound. Unfortunately, there's little of Karenin in this telling of the story of an upper-middle-class woman in Russia of the 1870s who ditches her boring and too-old husband for a dashing army officer--and pays the penalty for the affair in full, with interest and late charges.

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The official web site of the movie Anna Karenina.

An extensive site devoted to Leo Tolstoy.

For those with time on their hands, the complete text of Anna Karenina, the novel, is online.

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Rose has one interesting approach to the story; he subtitles the peasants' dialogue as a reminder that the Russian elite literally spoke a different language (French, that is) from the people beneath them. Rose tries to tart up the material with gory childbirths and miscarriages, with the arterial spray from a shot horse, with an awkward nude love scene between Vronsky and Anna. The modern sensation doesn't make up for the old-fashioned aspects: from the Russian-movie tropes (like the smoking locomotive slowly crossing the wide screen from right to left) to the awkward dialogue ("Princess Kitty, may I have the quadrille?") to the rather corny surprise ending explaining what Alfred Molina is doing watching the story with such woeful eyes. Molina is, as it turns out, the old man of the title (before he grew his monumental beard), hanging around to explain the tragedy we've seen.

Deny god and man as we will, there's a moral code that we suck with our mother's milk that has nothing to do with the strictures of society. This code, however, may depend upon the richness of the milk in question. If you're born with the kind of income Tolstoy enjoyed, you have a lot more time to consider how morality and justice flow from God than if you actually have to go out and look for something to eat. Maybe I would have been more receptive to the sermon if the rest of the film hadn't been so bombastic and badly edited, if there had just been simple chemistry between the forbidden lovers--Marceau's instrument doesn't play a liebestod nearly as compelling as the theme from Swan Lake that soars up on the soundtrack as she tries to gaze hotly at Vronsky in the theater.


Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (PG-13; 110 min.), directed and written by Bernard Rose, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, photographed by Daryn Okada and starring Sophie Marceau, James Fox and Sean Bean.

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