(Warner Bros.) Anna Karenina has been filmed several times in the past, but this production is the first Western film to be made entirely in post-Soviet Russia, utilizing the ornate architecture and expansive vistas of one of the worlds most picturesque and little-seen cities as a natural setting for the action of the story.
We spent six months in St. Petersburg and the surrounding countryside making Anna Karenina and it was a truly remarkable experience, says Bernard Rose. We, as Westerners, know so little of what this country actually looks like; during the Cold War all we saw were photos of drab grey buildings and bundled-up people in lines. It was impossible to know that some of the worlds most beautiful palaces and public spaces can be found in Russia. But once audiences see this movie, they will certainly know what theyve been missing.
Continues Rose, Imperial Russia was the richest empire in the history of the world. It had the wealth of an entire continent flowing into its pockets, because the feudal system was still alive in the 19th century there -- the aristocracy actually owned its workers. Like all pre-revolutionary societies, Imperial Russia was lavish and decadent for the few who could enjoy its riches. But after World War II, the city of St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad), which had suffered heavy damage, was rebuilt, so the palaces and public buildings are still standing today and most of them are in quite beautiful condition.
Bruce Davey, Bernard Rose and line producer Jim Lemley worked in cooperation with the Len Film Studio of St. Petersburg, which provided facilities and helped obtain access to certain sites.
Among the locations used in the film are Catherine the Greats lavish Winter Palace; the legendary art museum The Hermitage; the Peter and Paul Fortress, which actually pre-dates the construction of St. Petersburg by a year; and several other historic palaces, including the Marinsky, Marly and Wedding Palaces.
The scale of this lavishness served a symbolic purpose for the Russian aristocracy, says Davey. It reduced the significance of an ordinary individual to almost nothing, which further emphasized the power of these inherited bloodlines. Room after room of gold-encrusted decor, crystal chandeliers and tapestries -- only the enormous, majestic proportions of these rooms saved them from being gaudy. Instead, theyre simply amazing to look at.
Bernard Rose acknowledges that filming in Russia during the early days of its post-Communist economy brought certain unique aspects into the movie-making process. In the first place, everything had to be done with cash, he laughs. Russia is a totally cash-based economy right now, and American cash is much better than Russian. But in general, people were very cooperative, even more than we expected them to be.
One day we were filming in the Cathedral Square in front of the Kremlin. We had gotten permits to film there, but in the middle of the day, Boris Yeltsin himself came out with some of his aides and asked us to leave because the noise was disturbing him. Well, you could say this was unfair, but on the other hand, can you imagine if someone wanted to come from Russia and shoot a movie in the Rose Garden of the White House? It would be impossible! So I had very few complaints.
The Russians have a deeply entrenched film culture and the supporting cast were all local talent. The dancers in our ballroom scenes were actual Russian ballerinas, who showed up in ordinary street clothes and were transformed into princesses in our lavish ballgowns. I dont think anyone can look bad in one of those dresses, and they certainly knew how to move in them.
Our horse race was also filmed with Russian riders and their own horses -- they rode at breakneck speed and actually wanted to stage those falls as a test of their nerve!
The legendary Russian weather lived up to its reputation -- St. Petersburg is just at the edge of the Arctic Circle -- but since the production filmed from February through July, the filmmakers also benefitted from the long Arctic summer days, which often provided up to 20 hours of light.
The growing season in that part of the world is astounding, says Rose. They get two crops in a very short summer, because the light makes everything grow so fast. It was perfect for filming, of course!
One of the scenes that Rose felt was central to the story of Levins evolution is the grass-cutting scene that occurs on his farmland. Using scythes, a team of men cuts a rhythmic swath through a gorgeous field of golden-green grass, illuminating to Levin the cyclical nature of life and need of people to help one another to survive.
I think that scene is a moment of epiphany, says Rose. It is the beginning of the change in Levins life -- the moment when he goes from being lonely and unhappy to making the decision to seek happiness with Kitty. And we actually cut all that grass by hand; its one of my favorite scenes.
In addition to the classic scenery, costuming and language used in Anna Karenina, the Imperial Russian culture was evoked still further with a musical score composed by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev, conducted by Sir Georg Solti and performed by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
Concludes Bernard Rose, This is a timeless story about some of the most universal desires that inspire human behavior; it seems appropriate that timeless music, also composed during this romantic and lavish era, should enhance our film.
Warner Bros. Presents An Icon Production of A Film by Bernard Rose: Leo Tolstoys Anna Karenina, starring Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean, Alfred Molina, Mia Kirshner and James Fox. The music director is Sir Georg Solti; the film editor is Victor Dubois; and the production designer is John Myhre. The director of photography is Daryn Okada and the executive producer is Stephen McEveety. The film has a screenplay by Bernard Rose, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy. It is produced by Bruce Davey and directed by Bernard Rose. Distributed by Warner Bros., A Time Warner Entertainment Company.
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