The Kreutzer Sonata

Director    Bernard Rose
Starring    Danny Huston, Elisabeth Röhm, Matthew Yang King, Anjelica Huston
Release    12 Mar (UK)    Certificate 18
2 stars


14th March 2010

With all eyes on the recent Oscars and looking ahead to the upcoming summer blockbusters, the release of this small intimate drama has escaped most people's attention. It's easy to see why.

With an amateurish feel and overwrought performances from its lead stars, The Kreutzer Sonata is an overwhelmingly unimportant film with little merit. The title refers to a Beethoven sonata with an infamously "unplayable" violin part, but the film fails to live up to the complexity of its namesake and, even though the furious fingering of the sonata can be heard playing throughout the whole movie, the story itself is disappointingly one-note.

Based on the Leo Tolstoy novella of the same name, the film uses a melodramatic voiceover and a series of flashbacks to tell the story of the relationship between Edgar (Huston) and Abby (Röhm), a young concert pianist. What starts as a passionate love affair soon skips four years ahead to the pair as a married couple with two children. Abby is now a bored housewife to Edgar's well-off businessman, but to ease her frustration he organises a charity benefit whereby Abby will take up the piano again and play the Kreutzer Sonata, accompanying the hugely talented violinist, Aiden (Yang King). However, as the two musicians spend more and more time together rehearsing, Edgar's jealousy begins to boil as he convinces himself that they are having an affair.

This jealous rage is the focus of the entire film as it tries to be an uncompromising study of dangerous obsession. However, Edgar's jealousy is so overplayed that it stifles any semblance of plot and, as the story moves towards what should be a tense finale, his final moments of suspicion and resentment are instead fumbled clumsily to an unsatisfyingly drawn-out conclusion.

[gallery]The blame can partly be shouldered by Danny Huston, who portrays Edgar's full jealous fury with hammy despair and booming glares - a genuine shame considering the natural ease he shares with co-star Elizabeth Röhm at the start of the film. As two budding lovers, they have a believable chemistry which, although not sparking, certainly gives the film much-needed realism. The two also earn points for the bravado with which they execute explicit sex scenes with unashamed honesty, as the camera often ventures into inelegant close-ups.

The use of handheld cameras throughout helps with the overall feel of intimacy, but serves as a distraction when it frequently becomes clear that a cameraman is intruding on the scene. It's during these moments that the film resembles the pretentious coursework of a media student.

And yet, this doesn't grate as much as the insincere voiceover which punctuates almost every new development. Spouting lines as if he were performing a dramatic reading from the novella, Edgar irritatingly comments on his own feelings when a 'show, don't tell' approach would be much more bearable.

Despite this, credit is still due to Huston and Röhm whose on-screen performances elevate the film above its more obvious flaws. It is just a shame that all of the incensed melodies and battling harmonies which permeate the film cannot stop it from being ultimately too flat.

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