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. [...]
[...] The opening scenes, the meeting of Vronskys, Anna and Stiva Oblonsky at the train station, as well as the scenes of domestic instability and reconciliation in the Oblonsky household are plotted out in practically the same manner in each film. However, upon arrival at the ball scene the directors' interpretations begin to take on their own style while still keeping in touch with the interests of the novel Horse-Racing and Ballroom Scenes We start now with an examination of Zarkhi's portrayal of the horse-racing and ballroom scenes of Tolstoy's novel. [...]
[...] If one were forced to give a Socialist Realist interpretation of the story it could be said that the film presents the struggle of Anna in a decadent and hypocritical society which presaged the revolution and identified her with the masses. At any rate, Zarkhi's film does not present a sympathetic view to its subject matter, but rather exposes Czarist society with a cold eye. There was no intention of glamorizing this society, therefore, the fact that the immoral majority had “envied Vronsky” his decadent affair would only serve to justify the death of the Old World. [...]
[...] In choosing to adapt, both directors put their focus on the romance between Anna and Vronsky. More or less brushing over the side stories, the directors' viewpoints emerge in various crucial scenes and lead to quite different conclusions on their subject matter. Zarkhi and Duvivier have created film adaptations which reflect on how their respective societies relate to the society of Tolstoy's novel and their viewpoints emerge as the result of different readings, misreadings and omissions of parts of the novel since no single film adaptation of Anna Karenina can be completely faithful to Tolstoy's vast work, infidelities are bound to occur. [...]
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