30 in 3 Book Challenge Update: Anna Karenina

Update on the book challenge!

I finished Anna Karenina! My 771-page book has been mastered! Took a few months due to fluctuating interest, but закончено. I’ll be honest: When it comes to Anna’s portion of the story, I should have stuck to the Kiera Knightley movie. But that would be terrible. Though I have never seen the movie, I don’t think the movie could encapsulate the other literary aspects Tolstoy so carefully placed in his mega novel. AK is beyond a mushy story about an affair between a beautiful aristocrat and a Russian count. There’s gender roles, philosophy, questions of religion and mental states.

The romance between Anna and Vronsky is exciting at first, but as you keep reading (and reading…and reading…and reading…), you start to think if Anna’s choice to escape with Vronsky to the realm of love and passion was a good idea. You question her credibility and her entitlement. Then, you think “Jesus! I’m just like the Russians in the book!” when you realize you are scrutinizing the woman and not the man. In the beginning of the book, Oblonsky’s, Anna’s brother, affair comes out. No one really does anything though. They don’t exile him. They don’t genuinely scrutinize him because he is the man, the master of the home, the breadwinner. They pity Dolly, Oblonsky’s wife, but it’s only surface deep. And this was set in the mid-1800s! When I think of today’s world with female empowerment and equal rights for all, it’s sort of the same yet sort of different. Women can easily be breadwinners and masters of the home. The shame though when a woman partakes in “inappropriate matters”, like an affair, well from what I have seen and even judged, is gray area. You hear a woman cheats on her husband or partner and others instantly go “what a slut!”. In this time and age though, you also scrutinize the man. I mean, it takes two to tango. Way to go Tolstoy, you got me thinking of gender roles.

My favorite storyline from AK is Levin’s, the co-protagonist. He’s kinda the odd ball out in Society because of he’s not a rebel like Nikolai, his brother, or a bookworm like Sergei, his brother who’s the shining light of Society’s intellectual clique. He’s nowhere near a socialite and hundreds of miles away from bureaucrat city. He doesn’t fit in any category of traditional high society, hence the appeal. He also poses many questions when it comes to Russia’s future. During this time in Russian history, Russia hasn’t full gone Western. Throughout the book, many folks in Society switch from Russian to French to English. Levin refuses to see his homeland go Western, but knows his homeland needs to use Western technology to stay relevant. There is also Levin and Kitty’s love story that is adorable: lost love followed by suffering but triumphed in the end. I am happy that there was at least one happy ending in AK. Literary nerds say Levin is a self-portrait of Tolstoy, citing examples as Kitty and Levin’s wedding and Levin’s acceptance of faith. I can’t necessarily agree nor disagree since I have don’t have much knowledge on Tolstoy, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been known to do that from time to time in my own stories.

Spoiler alert: The mental stability was great towards the end of the book. Anna and Levin’s reactions to their situation greatly juxtapose each other. Anna’s choice to be fully involved with Vronsky sends her down a spiral of living nightmares, delusions and mental anguish, leading to her downfall, both metaphorically and literally. Levin, on the other hand, experiences great inner anxiety about his position in life after his baby is born. He even contemplates suicide more than a few times. But, unlike Anna, Levin finds the moment when everything makes sense and everything will be alright. He accepts his position and his faith and lives happily ever after.

I did love the book, again, mostly for Levin’s storyline. Anna’s storyline did bring a little relief from the intense economic, philosophical and self-reflection aspects Levin brought about. If I read this four years ago, I would have been all over Anna’s romantic story. Now, it’s like “you’re a rich girl with first world problems. You’ll survive (or not….cough cough wink wink)”. I would recommend everyone to read it. I would also recommend you take a longgggggg break from the Russian writers afterwards because it does mentally drain you.

Next stop, the French!

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I admit it: I am a Disney movie nerd. So it’s no surprise that I saw Beauty and the Beast yesterday. You know, that live action film with Emma Watson that came out about a month ago.

I must say I am happy they didn’t follow the 1991 version exactly. For example, the library scene. In the live action it was presented to Belle by the beast as a half joke/half serious offer, which made it all the more adorable. In the cartoon version, it was presented after the snowball fight scene as a “I’ve been preparing this for you so here you go!”. Keeping the songs from the original movie like “Be My Guest” is a nice nostalgic touch.

Another plus: The live action closed loops that the cartoon left out. Was the Beast always a douchebag? I am not saying. Where did Belle’s mother go? Spoiler: she was not a French Revolutionary fighting for her country, unfortunately. What was the time period? Considering Gaston was “in the war” and the Eiffel Tower was not built yet and the mention of Champs Elysées being “too touristy” placed the time period  post-1815. These little details provided more depth for each character, making much more sense on how they fall in love or dislike each other.

The one minor issue I hold with the live action is the passage of time. Is it me or did all this happen in three days? I’m pretty sure the 90s version expanded the timeframe. I know it’s supposed to be classic love story but come on. It’s rare to acquire a “fear then witty banter then pure romance” relationship in three days. 

I love the chemistry the actors have with each other. Le Fou, played by Josh Gad of Frozen (Olaf!) was hilarious (and closet gay? Spoiler!). I would see it again and recommend the film. And if you a nostalgic cinema person, watch the movie at a classic theater without the dine and fancy seats. I saw it at Gateway Regal 16, which is an old school cinema with a classic concession stand that sells overpriced popcorn and candy, surprisingly good arcade games according to my friend John who ventured with me to see this film, and good ol non-reclining non-leather seats. It adds a whole ‘nother level of magic.

Gateway Regal 16 in North Austin

Amélie (2001)

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Amélie is a romantic comedy starring Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz. Amélie is a naïve young woman who decides to better the lives of other after she helps a man find his childhood box of treasures. She convinces her father to travel the world after stealing his gnome and giving it to a flight attendant to take pictures of the gnome on landmarks all over the world. She tries to get a regular customer and her middle-aged coworker together. She keeps Mr. Dufayel, aka “The Glass Man”, company as he paints his version of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party”. Finally, Amélie helps herself after she finds a quirky young man’s photo album and falls in love with him. She plays a game of cat and mouse to get his attention and when they finally meet face to face, they begin their relationship.

I very much enjoyed Amélie. The tint gave the film a whimsical feel. The score was beautiful and simplistic. It added emphasis in the right moments too like when Amélie opened the door and found Nino standing at the door. Though I must admit, it confused me in the beginning when she started helping all those people but I liked how everything tied together in the end. My favorite character would have to be Mr. Dufayel. He’s insightful and sneakily pushes Amélie to explore herself and take risks. All in all, it was a great film and it deserved all the rewards it received. Plus, Audrey Tautou is my favorite French actress. Props to her. 🙂

L’écume des Jours (2013)

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Most people on finals week would cram, party or watching the most random shows on Netflix. I’ve found my addicting distraction in French films. Here’s the second film I have seen called L’écume des Jours or Mood Indigo.

L’écume des Jours/Mood Indigo is a 2014 romantic drama based on Boris Vian’s Froth on the Daydream. It stars Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris and directed by Michel Gondry. Colin (played by Duris) has the high life around him: his wealth, his friends – Nicholas and Chick – and his “pianocktail”. At one of Chick’s parties, he meets Alise (played by Tautou). They fall in love and get married. On their honeymoon, Alise falls ill and finds out that a water lily is growing on her lung. The only treatment would be surrounding her with flowers, which is very expensive and causes Colin to exhaust his funds. Time passes and her condition does not get any better. Meanwhile, Chick and Alise’s friendship is strained due to Chick’s obsession with philosopher Jean-Sol Patre. Chick also exhausts his funds on collecting Patre’s works. Alise goes to extreme measures to help her friend stop his obession, which unfortunately ends with the destruction of the friendship. Colin, who is now broke, cannot afford more flowers to treat Alise and Alise dies.

It was nice to know a familiar face in a foreign film. Audrey Tautou played Amelie in the film of the same name, which was a big hit. Seeing how she performed well in Amélie, I knew Mood Indigo would be a great film, which it was. I loved the work “pianocktail”, which is a mash-up of “piano” and “cocktail”. This film’s whimsical fantasy reminds me of Amélie, which also that whimsical feel.