Dir. Bernard Rose.USA. 2008. 99mins
Eight years after ivansxtc, director Bernard Rose and star Danny Huston are reunited on another digitally-shot, Tolstoy-inspired story of emotional meltdown. The Kreutzer Sonata is the lesser of the two films, transforming a tale of all-consuming sexual jealousy into a turgid journey through banal scenes from aBeverly Hillsmarriage. The haughty grandeur of Huston’s central performance lends some distinction to an independently-financed venture that seems unlikely to generate significant theatrical interest. The Huston/Rose reunion might attract a healthier interest on ancillary, however.
The 1889 novella by Leo Tolstoy was, in turn, inspired by a performance of Beethoven’s Opus 46 for piano and violin at the writer’s home. Rose gives it a contemporary setting opening in fine B-movie fashion as Edgar (Huston) collapses on a bed. His hand is covered in blood and he wearily calls for an ambulance. A succession of flashbacks reveals his relationship with Abby (Elisabeth Rohm), a gorgeouspianist who becomes his second wife. Two children and years of sexual bliss and domestic harmony follow although Edgar becomes more possessive and Abby feels increasingly trapped. Edgar’s irrational jealousy finds a target in handsome violinist Aidan (Matthew Yang King) who seems to have developed a special bond with Abby as they rehearse for a performance at a charity concert to benefit amputee children in Sierra Leone. Edgar assumes the worst as his feverish imagination heads into overdrive.
There’s a strong film noir feel to The Kreutzer Sonata. Strip away the torrid sex scenes and handheld digital aesthetic and this could be a Warner Brothers melodrama from the 1940s with Claude Rains as the deranged husband. Rose underlines the comparison with an abundance of melancholy, soul-searching voice-over narration and a soundtrack where the overwrought emotions are matched by the furious surges of the Beethoven music.
A trim Danny Huston manages to keep the ham to a minimum even as his role is increasingly reduced to thunderous looks and murderous grimaces. Elisabeth Rohm (Law& Order, Angel) is a match for Huston as the independent Abby and late in the film Anjelica Huston has a brief cameo as Edgar’s concerned sister Elinore.
The film falters in its lack of insight into the central relationship or the motivation for Edgar’s insane jealousy. Scenes in which Abby expresses her feelings of being oppressed by family life or where the couple argue over the state of their marriage lack bite or originality and wind up feeling like a vague, distant echo of material that Ingmar Bergman or John Cassavetes might have handled with the searing, soul-searching intensity it requires to cut to the heart of the matter.
Production Company/Int’l Sales
Independent Film Company
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Ludwig Van Beethoven
Matthew Yang King