Today we celebrate 190th birthday of probably the most important Russia writer Leo Tolstoy. The creator of the well-known epopee War and Peaceand the profound novel Anna Karenina became one of the favourite authors for screen adaptations. And for a good reason! His deep, complex and monumental texts give a lot of material and room for experimentation for many film directors all over the world the world. Specially for Russian Art + Culture Ekaterina Savitskaya prepared the list of the best films based on the Tolstoy’s writings.
War and Peace, BBC (2016)
Mini-series from BBC provide colourful and fresh screen version of the most important Russian novel of all times. The plot covers only the main characters of the novel – Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha Rostova and Andrey Bolkonsky, but even that is enough to duck deep in the world of war epopee and family chronic. The series are worth watching not only for the chance to refresh your knowledge of Russian literature and history of that time, but also to enjoy Julian Anderson’s, brilliant performance as Anna Pavlovna Sherer, especially since now she is rarely on screen.
Anna Karenina,Clarence Brown (1935)
The first sound screen version of Anna Kareninawas produced in Hollywood with Russian grandiose sweep. There are grand home balls, opulent aristocracy attending operas and lavish feasts of military men. But these are not the most important things on the screen. The luxurious Hollywood decorations are only the background for the drama unfolding between the two main characters, Anna Karenina and the officer Vronsky, played by Greta Garbo and Frederick March. In fact it wasn’t the first time when Garbo performed as Karenina; in 1927 she stared in Edmund Goulding’s silent film Lovebased on the same novel. In 1935 adaptation Garbo’s confident, mastered to perfection play recompensed the quite simplified Brown’s plot, which barely covered the whole dramaturgic inside of the novel. Garbo shows precisely delicate and uneasy feelings of one of the most important heroines of world literature making this film and absolute must-see.
Resurrection, Mikhail Shveitzer (1960)
Resurrectionbased on the homonymous novel of Leo Tolstoy became an absolute record-breaker in the Soviet cinematography and put Shveitzer’s name on top of the list of the best directors of Russian classics screen adaptations. To reflect the complexity of Tolstoy’s thoughts on human nature Shveitzer opted for unprecedented at the time filming technics. Being a student of Eisenstein, Shveitzer used so called “attractions” – rapid camera movements, close-ups, quick montage to adapt the difficult Tolstoy’s text for the viewer making it a fascinating journey to a human’s soul.
The sun also shines at night, Taviani brothers (1990)
The film based on the short story Father Sergiusis probably the most interesting attempt to adapt Tolstoy’s writing for the screen. The events were relocated from Russia to Neapolitan Kingdom, where the cadet Sergio not having clear understanding of what is awaiting on him renounce his royal benefits and devotes his life to God. Taviani Brothers, who often used Tolstoy’s text in their previous films, kept only the main story line of Father Sergius. Offering their own artistic vision of the story and adding new ideas directors created equally complex and intense depiction of Italian landscapes where the main character tries to find tranquillity. This quest for the inner piece in natural surroundings can also be connected to the spiritual search of Leo Tolstoy in the final years of his life.
L’Argent,Robert Bresson (1983)
Throughout his long career the film director Robert Bresson explored the morality and inviolability of the Church commandments such as “You shall not kill” and “You shall not steal”. His film L’Argentbased on Tolstoy’s novella The Forged Couponis an intricate study of a nature of a crime. Following Tolstoy Bresson affirms that once you commit a crime, no matter how small and insignificant it is, there is no way back. The film depicts the story of the main character, truck driver Yvon, in a stark and dry manner making every betrayal and lie happening along the way something common and natural. However, don’t be fooled! The film reveals a long sequence of sins in small details where the forged banknote used in the shop was just a trigger mechanism for all of them.