Love was Greta Garbo’s first attempt at Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (she made a second version in sound in 1935) and is notable for eviscerating the novel and supplying it with a happy ending. With so many liberties taken with the text and so many anachronisms of costume design and décor it is best to treat the film as helping to create the template for the romantic melodrama.
On this level it works very well. It is a powerful film that builds on the previous success of the erotically charged partnership of Garbo and John Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil (1926). Their physical beauty is exceptional and their rapport is tangible. Edmund Goulding went on to direct Dark Victory with Bette Davis and his direction of Love is tender and perceptive. William Daniels’s photography (he was a Garbo veteran) is stunning with moodily realistic lighting and lingering close-ups, the profiles of the two stars given great prominence.
Garbo’s face registers every nuance of emotion but it also delivers her thoughts unmediated to the audience. Her scenes with son Serezha (Philippe de Lacy) are moving and physically sensuous, almost incestuously so. It is clear from the beginning that Anna cannot exist without her son. John Gilbert is an actor more of his time but shares Garbo’s beauty and grace and also had good humour and sincerity. Gilbert’s eyes as they focus on Garbo show Vronsky’s single-minded intensity; he is not going to share her with anybody. Their waltz-scene is exquisitely shot and the sequence at the military races where Vronsky falls from his horse and Anna’s display of emotion is brilliantly, if brutally, choreographed.
Aphrodite Raickopoulou had big success in 2012 with her score for Faust directed by F. W. Murnau. Her music for Love is that rare thing – rich and melodic in traditional film-music style, fully orchestrated by the composer. Tchaikovsky and Glazunov cast long shadows over the music as do the film-scores of William Walton but it has freshness and big rolling themes.
A brief prelude for violin and orchestra allowed Vadim Repin and the Philharmonia to create the mood and then the film opens with a whirling snowstorm and two sleighs dashing across a plain. When Anna and Vronsky take shelter in an inn and he sees her face for the first time as she removes her chiffon veil generated real musical passion. There was much full- throated lyricism for the brass and woodwinds in the hunting scene where Anna and Vronsky meet again, touching gentleness from the violin and accompanying strings for the Karenin household, and baleful brass and dark lower strings complement Vronsky’s fate within his regiment.
Throughout there is plenty of brooding atmosphere and a real feeling for Russian style that avoided bombast. Raikopoulou’s score is well-crafted and doesn’t just illustrate what we see but supplements the emotional states of the characters.
Frank Strobel ensured smooth coordination with the images and drew powerful playing from the Philharmonia Orchestra for the public scenes and refinement for more-intimate moments. Vadim Repin produced a characteristic combination of robust lyricism and purity of tone. It would be interesting to know what degree of latitude he was allowed in his improvisations within the strictly timed cues of the score. It certainly created a sense of the music unfolding spontaneously.
The film’s eighty-three minutes sped by, the images and music ensuring an emotional engagement creating an immersive experience.