NEW YORK -- Leo Tolstoy's novel “Anna Karenina” is a timeless classic, but its dramatic power is little evident in this adaptation by director Darezhan Omirbaev set in contemporary Kazakhstan. More concerned with depicting that region's modernist aspects than with its characters or situations, “Chouga” is utterly lacking in dramatic urgency. Stylistic flourishes abound with little effect in the film, which was recently showcased at the New York Film Festival. Arthouse prospects look dim.
The basic storyline is kept intact, with married thirtysomething Chouga abandoning her older, prosperous husband and young son to take up with younger man Ablai (Aidos Sagatov). He in turn has forsaken his own lover (Ainour Sapargali), who, after a failed suicide attempt, takes up with a more a suitable suitor.
Featuring monotonous, barely expressive performances and numerous visual tricks-much of the action is glimpsed through mirrors, video screens and camera lenses, the film somehow manages to whip through its plot in record time (less than 90 minutes) while simultaneously moving at a snail's pace.
The pretentious formalism might have been more bearable if we could form any connection to the characters, but the director/screenwriter maintains such an emotional distance from the material that the only result is tedium.