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Fidelity and Infidelity (to Tolstoy’s Novel) in Duvivier’s and Zarkhi’s Anna Kareninas

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  1. Introduction
  2. Behind the Scenes: Adaptation, censorship and production
  3. The root of this stereotype
  4. Literalism and interpretation
  5. Horse racing and ballroom scenes
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bibliography

A viewer watching the 1948 and then the 1967 film versions of Anna Karenina (directed by Julien Duvivier and Aleksandr Zharkhi, respectively) for the first time might think that there is much in common between the two films. They look very similar, and this is due in large part to attempts, by the film-makers, to be meticulously literal both to history and to their source, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. However, despite this seeming faithfulness to the original, the films also diverge wildly from each other at certain important turning points in the plot, and it is in these key moments that a different viewpoint, the directors' own, asserts itself and distinguishes the film adaptations as, in some sense, original works of art (whether successful in this regard or not is a different matter). These adaptations are unique not because they are ?spins? or ?take-offs? on the original, rather, they are valuable as cultural commentary, as attempts to define and relate the society that produced the films with the society that Tolstoy lived in and wrote about. Some might question whether the films actually present unique viewpoints or if, due to censorship issues and the cruel drive of market forces, they simply represent the prevailing societal views of their times. But it must be kept in mind that Tolstoy also wrote during a time of censorship and strict morals and yet was able to produce a meaningful work of art.

[...] To understand these reactions, it is necessary now to delve into the films themselves and how they mirror and react to Tolstoy's novel in personifying its characters and bringing to life its plot Literalism and Interpretation Both directors immediately take on the enigmatic nature of Anna Karenina's beauty. They seem to arrive at similar conclusions, for Vivien Leigh and Tatiana Samoilova are similar to each other and match the descriptions of Anna found in Tolstoy's novel. Different adaptations on the other hand have featured blonde Vronskys, older Vronskys, older Anna Kareninas and blonde Anna Kareninas. [...]

[...] For instance, when Anna is leaving from the ball, Duvivier's Vronsky turns to her and gushes, beautiful you a line which is certainly not found in the novel. This is not to say that, in comparison, Russian Vronsky is a villain or just a symbol of decadent capitalist/czarist greed. Rather, Zarkhi depicts how Vronsky is fatally attractive to Anna, perhaps because of and not in spite of his dangerousness. For British and American audiences however, the answer is not seduction (which would have been practically impossible given the stringency of censorship boards at the time), but Vronsky as a charming, watered down and boyish gentleman. [...]

[...] While the concern of this paper is to pry beneath the almost deceptively literal presentation of Anna Karenina in both the 1948 and 1967 versions, it will be helpful to bring up moments from other versions for contrast. Such a technique would require discussing film adaptation scholarship, which analyzes the specific ways in which films can converge with and diverge from their source texts. Scholarly criticism of the adaptation process falls into two categories. The first is concerned with quantifying and categorizing the effects of adaptation and finds that despite a film-maker's best intentions to preserve a novel, simplifications in terms of plot, character reduction, and moral issues are bound to take place. [...]

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