There have been numerous adaptations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, so one could argue that if you’re going to wrestle with the popular tome, then you should be willing to bring something fresh to the table. In this instance, director Karen Shakhnazarov (Ward No. 6, Assassin of the Tsar) takes the original story, blends it with the war memoirs of writer Vikenty Veresaev and recounts the whole affair from the point of view of Anna’s lover Count Vronsky.
On the battlefields of the Russia-Japan war in 1908, a middle aged Vronsky (Max Matveev) unexpectedly meets his ex-lover’s son Sergey Karenin (Kirill Grebenshchikov), who has held a simmering hatred for the former over 30 years. Vronsky’s Story is quick to bring up Anna’s passing as it plays out in the novel, and the two men attempt an uneasy reconciliation in order to understand her and the events leading up to her death.
Done right, this kind of revisionism can really open up an established text, throwing light into its shadows in the hopes of finding something new. Sumptuous in its costumes and set design, Vronsky’s Story starts strong; the Count admitting that the deceased Anna, played by Elizaveta Boyarskaya, haunts his every waking day.
However, Anna’s all-consuming grip on Vronsky’s life bleeds into the narrative and he literally becomes a bit part in his own story. As such, we see events play out before seeing them recounted to our hero by others. Elsewhere, in the ‘present day’, Sergey disappears into the background, popping up only occasionally to insist Vronsky continue his tale. Something he does, even when peculiarly Sergey isn’t around.
It’s certainly easy to get swept up in the grandiose spectacle of it all, whilst Matveev and Boyarskaya give strong performances. However, there’s this inescapable feeling that by sticking rigidly to its source material, Vronsky’s Story is doing itself a disservice, ultimately struggling to tell its own story.