August 21, 2013

Film Review. An analysis of the cinematography of Anna Karenina by Joe Wright

When summer comes outdoor cinemas open and they offer, apart the few premiers we usually have in this period, some of the best films of the season.  Anna Karenina by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice, The Soloist) is definitely one of them.

The plot. Based on the novel by Lev Tolstoj set in the Russia of the 19th century. Anna Karenina escapes the cold relationship with her husband and enters a love affair full of love and passion which will change her life.

Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Camera: Panavision Panaflex Millenium XL2
Lenses: Panavision G Series, E-series, ATZ and AWZ2 
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Format: 36mm
Film Stock: Kodak Vision 5219 500T

Due to health problems, the former cinematographer of this project, Philippe Rousselot, abandoned three weeks before the shooting: he was replaced by Seamus McGarvey (The Hours, Avengers, High Fidelity) who already worked with director Joe Wright in Atonement and The Soloist. McGarvey didn't doubt a second at the moment of choosing the format: film was for him the right choice for the story and the period the story is set. And it really is: it works very well with the low light shots of the movie, making the shadows powerful and vibrant. The high speed film stock chosen delivers a beautiful grain structure while the high resolution of the Panasonic lenses is softened with a diffusion given by a stocking put in front of the lens, as we can see from the halo of the blurred lights in the scene (the good old Fogal Noblesse?), that gives a beautiful look to the image.

Wright is a director who uses lots of exquisite camera movements, and Anna Karenina is full of them: the camera dances with the characters, following them or going from a scene to another, revealing the set at a 360º angle; along with the camera the sets move as well (with some lights going on and others going off), creating different spaces and locations in the same area (Anna Karenina was almost entirely shot in a theatre).

With this theatrical mise-en-scène we can see the magnificent work McGarvey did. He not only had to light for the character but also for their movements and the ones of the sets, dealing with a camera moving around all the time.  So in order to hide lights he illuminated from above, like they do in theatres, achieving a light which go perfectly well with the characters and the way the story is told. When lights are placed on a side of the characters, the Irish cinematographer always tends to a an expressionist use of it. The only character to be lit in a more natural way is Levin, who is the only one who has a relationship with the outdoor world, the only one to exit the "theatre".  The 2.40 aspect ratio works really well with the story too, especially with the relationship between Anna Karenina and her husband with shots where the negative space and the distance between the two characters is emphasized by the chosen format.

Anna Karenina is a movie not everyone might like for the theatrical way it is made or for the story, too flat and shallow compared with the book. However the Seamus McGarvey's work is quite stunning, an absolute masterpiece of cinematography which well deserved much more than the nominee at this year Oscar.
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mentle
Camera: Arri Alexa, Phantom Gold, Canon Eos 1D MarkIV, Canon Eos C500, Indiecam IndiePov
Lenses: Zeiss Ultra Prime, Fujinon Alura, Hawk V-Lite, Canon, Indiecam lenses
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: ARRIRAW, Canon cinema Raw, H264, CinemaDNG
Film Stock: -
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