Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

The Complete Tolstoy

by Tony Nash

(A Part of the Epics)

(Mild Spoilers)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Author’s Note: Mild discussion will be on the Soviet Government’s treatment of Director Sergey Bondarchuk upon the film’s release in this review. It would be difficult not to discuss the Propaganda surrounding the film’s approval as film-making in Russia at the time was more about spreading their “superiority” to everywhere else. Let me say in no uncertain terms this is NOT about politics, ONLY the Historic elements, so please enjoy the review for its merit on recounting the beauty and history of the film, and not other reasons please.)

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

Война и мир (Voyna i Mir/War and Peace/War & Peace) (1966) PG-13 *****

Sergey Bondarchuk: Count Pierre Bezukhov

Lyudmila Saleva: Countess Natasha Rostova

Vyacheslav Tikhonov: Prince Andrei Bolkonsky

Boris Zakhava: Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov

Anatoly Klorov: Prince Nikolai Andreevich Bolkonsky

Antonina Shuranova: Princess Maria Bolkonskya

Oleg Tobakov: Nikolai Rostov

Viktor Stanitsyn: Ilya Andreyevich Rostov

Irina Skobtseva: Helene Bezukhova

Kira Golovko: Natalya Rostov

Vasily Lanovoy: Anatol Kuragin

Anastasiya Vertinskaya: Princess Lisa Bolkonskya

Vladislav Strzhelchik: Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte

Written by: Sergey Bondarchuk & Vasiliy Solovyov, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy (as Lev Tolstoy)

Directed by: Sergey Bondarchuk

Synopsis: An Epic account of the Napoleonic Wars and the lives of two families, one of an illegitimate Count and the other a soldier Prince.

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

In 1966, while Russia was still in the heavy grip of Fascism/Socialism, filmmaker Sergey Bondarchuk was able to successfully adapt Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel of the Napoleonic Wars to the big screen. While filmed as one whole piece the film, due to its near eight-hour length, was split into four parts and released in the course of a year and a half. Bondarchuk’s visionary imagination told the tale in intertwined and connected parts, going from love story to the story of war seamlessly. Two friends, Pierre and Andrei, experiences the highs and lows of life, the impact the wars started by Napoleon and others have on them, and how the constantly changing social and political climates mold and unmold not only them, but everyone around them. While at times hard to understand, Bondarchuk How the war affects the two friends and their respective families is what ties the unique imagery and stories together, making it a cohesive whole.

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

While Russia’s Socialist Soviet ideals of the times had to be adhered to in regards to film, literature, and art, director Bondarchuk was able to appease the Propaganda people and to make the film so countries outside the Soviet Bloc could appreciate and understand the film. Tolstoy’s novel was more about the ever changing ideals and beliefs of the aristocracy and nobility as Russia goes through the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, sometimes becoming more humane and losing the arrogance of their class, other times losing their humanity completely to the point  where they just go through the motions of life, losing everything. When Bondachuk and his cowriter decided to stick strictly to Tolstoy’s text and the historical sources the famed author researched when writing the book there was fear the Soviet government would turn the project down as anything regarding the Czarist age of the country was banned and criminalized. Bondarchuk may have been totally aware of this hypocrisy regarding Government activities, but his knowledge of the Russian youths praising of Tolstoy and his writings, would prevent the authorities from saying no to the film. Publicily the film was green-lit because of Bondarchuk’s assurance the film would depict a unified Russia, all classes working together in spite of corcumstaces, defending the motherland  against the forces of Napoleon.

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

Director Sergey Bondarchuk plays the lead of Pierre Bezukhov, a noble of illegitimate birth who only gains acceptance by his family when his dying father wishes so. His journey is the most difficult of the novel/film as he tries to maintain the status quo and dignity a man of his birth should have, but at the same time can’t help but feel the weight of change as the Russian Empire is besieged by invaders and the culture radically changing to conform to the new way of life across the ocean. Having led something of a decadent life across the ocean while in a self-imposed exile, Pierre is fully knowledgeable of the ways of Western Europe and is uncertain of how the commoners and peasants will react to the new way of life sweeping throughout the lands surrounding Russia and erasing the culture laid out by the nobles. He is joined by equally talented performers like Lyudmila Saleva, Vyacheslav Tikhonov, and Boris Zakhava who all must go through similar journeys, experiencing the highs and lows, loves and hates, and the certainty and uncertainty of the times shall bring them. Some will be able to survive and find new meaning in the new world while others will either be crushed completely by the changing tides, or survive only to live the remainder of their days as an outsider looking in, not fully separated from the world they once knew, but have nothing binding them to it. Actor Tikhonov embodies the latter of this perfectly as he knows the world he and his father knew is now in the past, but the will to live is too strong for him to deliberately try to end his own life, instead hoping joining the army will take care of such a dilemma for him.

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

Like with any great film, War and Peace had its share of problems. Bondarchuk himself suffered two heart attacks midway through production, forcing halts to filming and editing as he recovered, the stress of keeping the film on time, on budget, and meeting the criteria he himself expected of it finally becoming too much. Inclement weather was a constant issue during location shooting, sometimes lasting days, but had the benefit of adding to the beauty of the lush forests and fields chosen to host the battle scenes. When the film won an Oscar at the Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, A National Board of Review and New York Critics’ Awards, and getting a British Academy nomination, what should’ve been a crowning achievement for Bondarchuk turned into a nightmare when the Soviets began intimidating him, angered the film had impressed America and Western Europe. Fearing for his life and career, Bondarchuk caved in and joined the Communist Party in 1970, which he later regretted as it harmed his international reputation and inspired false beliefs that he was the poster child for Soviet filmmaking. Like with anything else, time healed these wounds and now Bondarchuk is recognized as the artist he truly was.

Image result for bondarchuk's war and peace"

Grand scale in every sense of the term, War & Peace combined beautiful artistic imagery and storytelling to make the most faithful adaptation of any work of literature in the history of cinema. While plagued with the hazards any film shoot and under the constant surveillance of untrustworthy government people, Bondarshuk, his actors, and his crew created a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and is seen as one of the greatest films ever made.

(A highly recommend giving this all time classic a viewing, even if only once due to its massive running time of just a little over 7 hours. While its creation and release caused issues for the careers and lives of most of the people involved, the problems of the period the film was made in faded into the past and Bondarchuk’s impressive vision of what he wanted the film to be is now able to be seen in that intended life. I really can’t add too much to I’m sure others have already said about it. The Criterion Collection Blu Ray of the film is magnificent, the picture and audio quality amazing, crisp, and clear, and always including a good amount of extras including interviews with some of the surviving cast and crew.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective images

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

%d bloggers like this: