Dario Marianelli is not the most famous composer working today, but he is most certainly one of the most refined ones. I have yet to be disappointed by his work, and each score is tightly knit with a lot of character and setting. Anna Karenina is no different, and is far and above his best score, in my opinion. This is his fourth outing with director Joe Wright; the two previously brought the period pieces Pride & Prejudice and Atonement to life, along with The Soloist. Marianelli was absent from Wright's Hanna, which featured a wonderfully unique and electronic score by The Chemical Brothers. Looking at his filmography, it is obvious that Wright is a director that understands how music works in film, and while his films may not be exceptional in an overarching sense, they all feature some sort of superb scoring in relation to the visuals.
With Anna Karenina, Marianelli steps forward and writes a score that not only fuels the film but goes beyond it and becomes a musical embodiment of the themes and ideas in Tolstoy's novel and of the time in which it was written. The production and costume design accompanied by the score equates to some sublime filmmaking that supersedes the problematic script and character development. The film's setting is based in and upon an abandoned theater. The visual idea behind Wright's direction is displayed in a breathtaking opening scene as the film sets up the narrative. These are the first three cues of the album, "Overture," "Clerks," and "She Is Of The Heavens," the latter of which is the prized gem of the film and score. "Overture" follows the main titles as the camera pans in to the stage for the curtain to rise, introducing us to the main theme, which could effectively be called Anna's theme. In this this prologue Wright unleashes the magnificent production design as the settings change as the scene progresses. Walls will lift and drop, people will enter and exit, lights will dim and blare, all while the characters move and talk. It is as if you are watching a live production, but in much more extravagant film form. "She Is Of The Heavens" highlights everything this score represents in 2 minutes flat. In the film, musicians cross the stage and perform the piece during the setting transition. Wind instruments, the whistlers, the main vocal... it is all there and gorgeously well done. It is these two minutes alone that make me believe Marianelli has another shot at winning the Oscar (he won in 2007 for Atonement). The score oozes Eastern European folk and traditional gypsy musical stylings, very much placing you in that Russian time period; all the while hinting at the class war present in the novel and touched upon in the film. It brings about a sense of irony that such "petty orchestration" would highlight the marital problems of the upper class, the temptation of lust and the nobility of fidelity. The main theme gets nicely woven through the score, with a somber highlight in "Leaving Home, Coming Home," and a bookend closing in "Seriously" as the curtain drops.
As a singular body of work, Anna Karenina possibly trumps every other score I have heard this year. What Marianelli accomplished is beyond the job of a composer. I enjoy the story his music tells on its own more than the one it accompanies in the film. It is heartbreaking, fun and exciting, bright and colorful, and dark and cold. The range of emotions and moods touched upon is endless, yet it is all expertly structured and flows beautifully together. This is a score that should not be missed, and earns every bit of its Oscar nomination.
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