Bernard Rose: Russian Studies
Bernard Rose’s latest film The Kreutzer Sonata combines all of his aesthetic interests – literature, classical music, erotica and horror. It’s an adaptation of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s novella that uses the titular piano/violin duet by Beethoven as the catalyst for the story of a jealous husband’s descent into madness. Updated to contemporary LA, Rose’s film has independently wealthy Edgar Hudson (played by Danny Huston) snaring himself a trophy bride, beautiful classical pianist Abby (Law and Order’s Elisabeth Röhm), only to fall prey to increasingly tortuous suspicion of her infidelity.
The film is the second of a planned trilogy of low-budget, modern-day-set Tolstoy adaptations – the first was Ivansxtc, which launched Huston’s acting career – and it’s also the second film in which Rose has used Beethoven’s music following his composer biopic Immortal Beloved. Meanwhile, eroticism and horror have been running themes throughout Rose’s career, dating back to his debut, the 1988 British chiller Paperhouse, and his subsequent 1992 adaptation of horror writer Clive Barker’s typically erotic short story, Candyman.
‘Tolstoy was able to document his state of mind in an almost horrifically honest way,’ Rose says, ‘and he was working in a golden age of the novel before Freud. I think that’s why his books transcend the culture in which they were written. So, he’s easy to adapt to a modern context, because the things people go through haven’t changed.
‘I did make a period version of Anna Karenina,’ Rose continues, ‘shot in the palaces of St Petersburg. I think Beverly Hills today is a very good parallel to St Petersburg or Moscow of the late-19th century, the wealth, the underclass and so on. Unless the story is about a specific historical event, there’s no need to set it in the past.
‘And with The Kreutzer Sonata,’ Rose says, ‘one of the things I could do, which the novel couldn’t, was include the music, and it’s an incredible piece of music. So I was able to use the Beethoven with the Tolstoy.’
The Kreutzer Sonata is Rose and Huston’s third Tolstoy collaboration – the youngest son of the Hollywood dynasty had a supporting role in Anna Karenina. ‘Danny’s an old friend,’ Rose says. ‘I couldn’t make a film this way, low budget, small crew, short schedule, with an actor who wasn’t. And he’s just right for these Tolstoyan roles. There’s something old world and aristocratic about Danny. When I cast him as the Hollywood agent in Ivansxtc, he was working as a director. But I thought he was perfect, because he seemed like a movie star, and I thought he should be one.’
Rose’s next film, an adaptation of former drug smuggler Howard Marks’ autobiography Mr Nice, is out later this year. Rose hopes his and Huston’s third and final Tolstoy adaptation, Boxing Day, will also be completed this year, the author’s centenary. ‘It’s going to be based on the story Master and Man,’ Rose says, ‘which is about two men, a wealthy man and his driver, who get lost in the snow.’
Sounds like another horror movie.
The Kreutzer Sonata, Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 26 Mar.