Friday, December 7, 2012

Adapting ANNA KARENINA: Social Charades on Screen

In honor of the new film adaptation of Anna Karenina, which starts today at Bryn Mawr Film Institute, BMFI Intern Mireille Guy takes a closer look at Joe Wright's production and a few of the previous film versions of Tolstoy's tragic novel.

Adapting Anna Karenina: Social Charades on Screen
By Mireille Guy, BMFI Intern

Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina is not a retelling of Tolstoy’s classic, but rather an adaptation that brings out the beauty and tragedy of the story while bearing its director's mark. The familiar doomed love story is seen through a different lens, thanks to the brilliant screenplay by Tom Stoppard.

Keira Knightley stars in Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, which starts today at BMFI. Jude Law and Matthew Macfadyen, period piece veterans, co-star.
Tom Stoppard’s screenplay draws out the conflicts within the plot in a sometimes ironic and always clever fashion, revealing the social charades in which the characters engage. Director Joe Wright takes advantage of these social pretensions by using a theater as the setting for most of the film, stating that:

“They were living their lives as if they were on a stage, and this gave me the idea to set the majority of the film in a theater.”

A theater and a stage are used as the setting during
the majority of the film.
By doing this, the audience is continuously reminded of the charades constantly being staged by the characters. Although the theatrical setting also serves a reminder that we are watching a story with an already established ending, it highlights the conflict between characters and reminds us of the social rules controlling them.

The costumes reinforce the staging, bringing to life late 19th century Russia, the height of the Russian Empire. During this period, the aristocracy was constantly looking west to France for the latest culture and style, parading around the Winter Palace in wild gowns and French hairstyles. Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, who also designed costumes for Atonement (for which she won an Academy Award) and Wright's Pride& amp; Prejudice, holds true to the Russian aristocracy's obsession with all things French and brings this social charade to the forefront of audience's minds.

The film’s lavish, grandiose design, star power, and the bold staging create a refreshing adaptation while remaining true to the themes Tolstoy incorporates into his novel.

Other Film Adaptations
Tolstoy’s epic, tragic love story has drawn the attentions of many filmmakers. Each adaptation both reflects the time and place it was made as well as holds true to the themes and emotions Tolstoy's novel evokes.

Here are a few of the many adaptations of Anna Karenina:

Anna Karenina (1914)
This early film adaptation by Russian director Vladimir Gardin emphasizes the train sequence, with the train rushing towards the camera and filling the frame.
Love (1927)
Greta Garbo plays Anna Karenina in this silent film adaptation that features an alternate happy ending. This was the first film shown at the Seville Theater, Bryn Mawr Film Institute’s home.

Anna Karenina (1935)
Greta Garbo reprises her role as Anna Karenina, this time with sound and the original tragic ending.

Anna Karenina (1948)
Filmed during Hollywood’s Golden Age, this adaptation stars Vivien Leigh.
River of Love (1960)
An Egyptian adaptation of Anna Karenina co-starring Omar Sharif.  

Anna Karenina (1977)
This BBC series includes ten 50-minute episodes, allowing for it to elaborate on the book's plot.
Anna Karenina (1997)
Filmed completely on location in Russia, this theatrical version includes a great soundtrack that includes music by Tchaikovsky.

Mireille Guy is a sophomore at Swarthmore College currently interning at Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

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