(out of 5)
Original title: Voyna I Mir
Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel virtually explodes onto the screen in this unforgettable, mammoth-length (7 hours!) adaptation by director Sergey Bondarchuk. Bondarchuk himself plays the central aristocrat Bezukhov, who witnesses the history of Russia from the battle of Austerlitz through to the Napoleonic war of 1812, both on the battlefield and at home. The private story mostly concerns itself with innocent young Natasha Rostova (a splendid Lyudmila Saveleva) whose passionate young heart leads her to a handsome, widowed prince who entertains the idea of marriage with her, until she risks personal ruin and eternal scandal by falling passionately in love with a rakish soldier. Meanwhile, Russia herself struggles to survive the French emperor’s bid for domination of the eastern world, which comes to a head in a scintillating series of battle scenes that involve what seem like thousands upon thousands of extras and some highly impressive technical effects. The film is endlessly rich with visual splendour (adjusted for inflation it would cost about $600 million today, making it the most expensive film of all time) but also thematically dense with Tolstoy’s plot and dialogue. Gorgeous camerawork and passionate performances (Boris Zakhava is a standout as the domineering general Kutusov) make the seven hours, believe it or not, fly by.
Directed by Sergey Bondarchuk
Music by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov
Film Editing by Tatyana Likhachyova