Friday, 23 July 2010

The Kreutzer Sonata (2008)

Synopsis: Husband with insane jealous streak winds up murdering his wife when he (wrongly) suspects her of having an affair.

Based on a Leo Tolstoy story which is itself a scathing attack on marriage, this film from Bernard Rose is first rate. I'd read about an earlier film that he'd made, Ivans XTC, again based on a Tolstoy story and starring (as this one does) the very talented (and very handsome) Danny Huston.

I've now read the Tolstoy story to get a good comparison and found it be pretty much spot on. It's uncanny how modern Tolstoy was in his attitudes/observations toward marriage and having a family. Even more so that Anna Karenina, The Kreutzer Sonata demystifies much of middle class, Western received wisdom on relationships and romance (more of which in Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch). He pretty much smashes any illusions that love between men and women is anything other than a bloody battlefield. Okay, so Levin in AK does come through and learn to appreciate his wife and baby son but on the whole, Tolstoy (a father of thirteen children himself) does not hold any truck with romantic novelists who espouse a 'love conquers all' line.

So, approaching this film with a healthy skepticism, I was not disappointed. I think Bernard Rose has crafted a really great little film. I say little as it's made on a digital camera and with only a small handful of 'names' (but two Hustons for yer money!). Even so, it is a very well constructed film, well photographed and edited, with a very tight narrative length.

I wondered if the cheap(er), digital format would bother me or detract from the film, but I can honestly say that it didn't. Apart from a couple of scenes with lots of visual 'noise', I reckon if using these smaller, digital cameras can allow directors more freedom, then great. Some of the newer digital SLRs with movie-making facilities on them are now churning out some very high quality images and will really change film-making.

Anyway, back to the story. The tale mostly translates well, although I didn't really buy the line that just because the couple at one point have unprotected sex this would have necessarily ended up in pregnancy. What about the morning after pill? That the female character, as a high-flying concert pianist, would sabotage her career so easily really didn't sit that well with me.

Apart from this one slip up, the story hangs as true today as in Tolstoy's time - that once a couple is married and have their first child, their lives and most importantly their joint life, is changed forever, often for the worse. There's a great line about women knowing that children are a burden that I didn't think could have been lifted from the original story, but it is. Here is a male writer that really understood that a woman's role as wife and mother is not every girl's dream and is often a big disappointment.

The tension of the alleged affair and the husband's jealousy is very well done with some of the arguments between the couple almost too honest and cringe worthy to watch. The climactic scene is very lightly done but so devastating - you can't quite believe what you've just seen. The performances are all very good, especially Danny Huston (where has he been all these years?? Edit: just rembered that I saw him in Silver City years ago - he was ace in that too) and Elisabeth Rohm as his wife.

I cannot wait to see what Bernard Rose makes next.'s a biopic of Howard Marks. Oh well, we can't make Tolstoy adaptations all the time I suppose...

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