War and Peace, Part I: Andrei Bolkonsky
(Voyna i mir)
Sergei Bondarchuk, Lyudmila Savelyeva, Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Boris Zakhava,
In 1969, Roger Ebert proclaimed Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace “the definitive epic of all time,” and no film has come along since to contradict that assessment. Bondarchuk undertook the adaptation of the revered Russian novel with all the resources of the Soviet state at his disposal, including priceless museum artifacts as props and literal armies of extras. He also drew on a full arsenal of sixties stylistics: gliding across glittering halls, swooping over battlefields, or lurching through drunken parties, his camera alternates between a God’s-eye view and a radical subjectivity. Following good-hearted Pierre (Bondarchuk), battle-scarred Andrei (Vyacheslav Tikhonov), and tempestuous Natasha (Lyudmila Savelyeva) through the tumult of the Napoleonic Wars, the seven-hour, Academy Award–winning War and Peace hews closely to Tolstoy both in outline and in scope, oscillating between historic magnitude and intimate detail.
Part I moves from ballroom to battlefield, introducing the principal characters at a series of lavish parties before Prince Andrei departs for military service and participates in the disastrous Battle of Austerlitz. Back home, illegitimate son Pierre is summoned to the deathbed of his father, a count. Themes of death and birth, despair and hope are evoked in lamplit interiors and ravishing images of the natural world, leading Andrei toward more than one epiphany.