When I was a teenage wannabe intellectual, I tried to read the Russian classic writers, including Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. But it was too heavy for me – literally, those are some heavy books – so I put it down and went back to Asprin or Sapkowski or Liquor. I never got around to fixing the lack of knowledge in Russian literature, so recently I thought – why not get to know some plots, since there are new movie adaptations of “Anna Karenina” and “Karamazovi“. And yes, movies are never as good as the books. But since I didn’t read the books, I can make an experiment and only compare the movies in the totally legit “Three Fs I give” scale.
The Fact. I fell asleep sometime around the middle of “Anna Karenina”. That says something, because I never fell asleep during any movie, no matter how boring/cliché it is (and I know boring – just two weeks ago I hosted a marathon of all 4 Step-Up‘s). It is not that “Anna Karenina” is not visually stunning. The main problem is that the movie is just about as flat as Keira’s chest and as interesting as a rock. Rocks are cool, but they have no spirit, no spark – the essential thing which make artworks to stand out. Here we have Knightley, being a bad wife and mother, Mr. Karenin with nice accent and loverboy Vronsky with those deep baby-blue eyes one can get lost in. But that’s it. What we don’t have is “Russian soul” – only westernized, clean version of what is supposed to be one of the most tragic stories of XIXth century.
The Flow. In “Karamazovi”, three main plot lines merge into one. A tragedy of a local worker, who avoids returning to the reality. Twists and turns of Karamazov family. Underwater currents in lives of Czech theatre troupe, which rehearses before festival in abandoned Polish factory. Each detail ornaments the big picture, sometimes you are not sure, in which timeline event is happening. But everything is united by the Flow – events go like a stream, they flood you like a well-written text, in which the sound of cracking skull is the same as that made by a plastic cup. The adaptation is fresh and captivating from the start till the end. This is how adapting is supposed to look like – taking the plot, planting it into different environment and freshening it up with different perspective – not trying to recreate the same story with slightly different cast over and over again.
The Form. “Anna Karenina” works perfectly well as a costume drama/eye candy – costumes are lovely, the cinematography is superb. There are some of those Wright’s signature long shots, already seen in “Atonement”. But it was really hard to care about any of the characters (maybe except Vronsky – but basically for the wrong reasons). “Karamazovi”, on the other hand, chose the form which does not outshine the story, and this was the trick which made me declare that I give all three Fs to honor the Czech spirit.