Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2021 Blind Spot Series: War & Peace


Based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, Voyna I mir (War & Peace) is the story of three aristocratic families whose lives are affected by the French invasion of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars as the fates of three people deal with the changes around them. Directed by Sergei Bondarchuk and screenplay Bondarchuk and Vasily Solovyov, the film is a four-part epic that explores a tumultuous period in Russia’s history as it play into the lives of various individuals. Starring Sergei Bondarchuk, Ludmila Savelyeva, and Vyacheslav Tikhonov. Voyna I mir is a ravishing and exquisite four-part film series from Sergei Bondarchuk.

The four-part film series explore the fates of three people during the Napoleonic Wars from 1805 to 1812 as they encounter many things including the Battles of Schongrabern, Austerlitz, Borodino, and the invasion of Moscow. It is a film that play into these fates as well as the decisions these people have made as three parts are focused on the principle protagonists in Andrei Bolkonsky (Vyacheslav Tikhonov), Natasha Rostova (Ludmila Savelyeva), and Pierre Bezukhov (Sergei Bondarchuk) with one part devoted to the year of 1812 in the Battle of Borodino. The film’s screenplay by Sergei Bondarchuk and Vasily Solovyov, the film does break the story into four parts with the first one devoted to Bolkonsky who is a prince that brings his friend in Bezukhov to high society, despite the fact that Bezukhov is the illegitimate son of a nobleman, who gets accepted by not just Bolkonsky’s family but also the Rostova whose young daughter Natasha is this abundance of energy that fascinates Bezukhov. Yet, Bolkonsky is eager to serve in the army despite having to leave his pregnant wife Lise (Anastasia Vertinskaya).

The first part would also have Bezukhov moving up the social circle and marry Helene Kuragina (Irina Skobtseva) who would later humiliate him through her series of affairs with Fyodor Dolokhov (Oleg Yefremov) leading to a duel that would only make things worse for Bezukhov. For Bolkonsky, his search for glory in military service only gives him a harsh reality upon is encounters at the Battle of Schongrabern and the Battle of Austerlitz where would return home defeated and disappointed where he and Bezukhov both lament into their own paths in life leading to the second part that focuses on Natasha. The second film on Natasha is about her own rise into the social order where she attends her first debutante ball where Bezukhov notices her and has her dance with Bolkonsky who is eager to marry her. Yet, he is often away fulfilling his duties as prince where Natasha would take part in a wolf hunt with her uncle and then meet Helena’s philandering brother Anatole (Vasiliy Lanovoy) whom she would have an affair with that would cause problems forcing Bezukhov to intervene.

The third film on the year of 1812 focuses mainly on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the Battle of Borodino where Bolkonsky serves as an officer for the aging Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov (Boris Zakhava) leaving Natasha behind as she is filled with shame and regret over what happened. Bezukhov would observe the battlefield as he would find himself taking part while Bolkonsky laments over his fate as he becomes unsure to the point that he doesn’t even send his regiment to fight that added a lot of problems to Russia’s defeat on that battle. The fourth film that is largely about Bezukhov begins with the invasion of Moscow where Kutuzov who had been disconnected from the reality of what is happening at the battle makes the reluctant decision for the people of Moscow to flee before Napoleon and his army come in. Bezukhov would stay behind while the wounded Bolonsky is carried away to safety where he would reunite with Natasha who asks for his forgiveness. Bezukhov would become a POW where he meets a soldier (Nikita Mikhalkov) whose views on life would give Bezukhov some hope leading to Napoleon’s departure from Moscow after peace talks fell apart.

Bondarchuk’s direction on the whole film series is definitely grand in the overall presentation where he captures a lot of attention to detail in the way Russia was during the early 19th Century during the Napoleonic Wars as it spans 7 years from 1805-1812. Shot on various locations in Russia including Moscow, Bondarchuk takes a lot of meticulous effort into the staging of some of the big scenes including the balls that feature a lot of characters dancing as well as the massive scale of the battle scenes. The usage of wide and medium shots don’t just play into the scale of some of the rooms but also for the battle scenes where Bondarchuk manages to get a lot of coverage into what he’s showing. Notably in the first film about Bolkonsky where the attention to detail into the strategy of what Bolkonsky is trying to figure out as does his superiors who believe that they should try to beat the French but these two princes force them to do things another way leading to a major defeat.

In the second film about Natasha, the direction is lavish with its usage of tracking shots in how characters walk towards the hallways and get a look while the wide shots capture so much attention to detail in how grand the ballrooms are. Bondarchuk also maintains an intimacy in some of the direction in his usage of close-ups and hand-held cameras in the way Natasha walks into a room or the way she reacts to things as there’s also these elaborate dolly-tracking shots in the ballroom including an aerial shot where the camera is attached to a wire as it would do the same for the Battle of Borodino in the third film. The attention to detail on Bondarchuk’s direction in the third film such as a scene where an officer talks to Kutuzov about what is happening while Kutuzov is eating chicken not really paying attention to what is happening while another officer is feeding him lies as the background show wounded soldiers carrying each other. In the fourth and final that focuses mainly on Bezukhov with Bolkonsky and Natasha each having their own moments with the former encountering some surrealistic moments as it relates to his own fate.

The invasion of Moscow where the people of Moscow just scurry and flee the city as there is a lot of chaos but when Napoleon and his army. There are also these amazing sequences including a brief shot of Natasha’s younger brother going into battle thinking he would fulfill his family’s honor as it has this dream-like quality until it returns to color. Bondarchuk knows when to ground the story as it relates to Bezukhov’s own encounters with war and chaos as it does lead to the film series’ ending that play into Russia’s own emergence from what Napoleon had done to them and creating a new Russia. Overall, Bondarchuk crafts an audacious yet rapturous film about the fates of three people during the Napoleonic Wars in early 19th Century Russia.

Cinematographer Anatoly Peterisky, with additional work from Yu-Lan Chen and Aleksandr Shelenkov, does incredible work with the film’s lush and colorful cinematography as its emphasis on natural colors in its 70mm film stock with the approach to lighting for some of the film’s interior/exterior scenes at night as well as the ballroom as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Tatiana Likhacheva does brilliant work with the editing in creating some stylish cuts including some jump-cuts for some of intense action shots as well as some slow-motion bits as it is another highlight of the film. Production designers Mikhail Bogdanov, Alexander Dikhtyar, Said Menyalshchikov, and Gennady Myasnikov, with set decorators Georgy Koshelyov and V. Uvarov, do amazing work with the look of the ballrooms and palace halls as well as the homes of some of the characters as well as a few buildings and some of the design of the battle ruins. Costume designers Vladimir Burmeister, Nadezhda Buzina, Mikhail Chikovany, and V. Vavra do phenomenal work with the costumes in the attention to detail in the design of the gowns that the women wear including the more casual look along with a lot of the clothes that Natasha and other women wear as it played into the style of the times.

The makeup work of Mikhail Chikirov is terrific for the look of the characters in how Natasha looked early on in the first film to becoming a woman of regret and understanding in the fourth film as well as how other characters look including some of the hairstyle of the times. Special effect pyrotechnics by Vladimir Likhachev is fantastic for its special effects in the battle scenes in adding that air of danger into the explosions as well as the way gunfire and cannonballs land on something. The sound work of Igor Urbantsev and Yuri Mikhailov is superb for the way it captures a lot of attention to detail in the sound as it has moments that are loud while also providing some low-key yet sparse moments as it is another highlight of the film. The film’s music by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov is tremendous in its array of orchestral themes ranging from bombastic and sweeping in the string and woodwind arrangements as well as some somber moments to play into the drama as the arrangements and Ovchinnikov doing his own conducting add to the grandeur of the film as it is another major highlight.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Vladislav Strzhelchik as Napoleon Bonaparte, Nikolay Trofimov as a soldier Bolkonsky befriends in the first film, Jean-Claude Ballard as a French officer named Ramballe whom Bezukhov befriends in the fourth film, Mikhail Khrabrov as a soldier Bezukhov meets late in the fourth film who gives him some ideas about life, Aleksandr Borisov as Natasha’s uncle in the second film who plays some folk music that she dances to, Anastasiya Vertinskaya as Bolkonsky’s first wife in Lise in the first film, Sergei Yermilov as Natasha’s younger brother Petya, Galina Kravchenko as Helene and Anatole’s sister Marya who actually likes Bezukhov, Oleg Tabakov as Natasha’s older brother who joins the war early in the film only to be unprepared for its reality in the first film, Viktor Stanitsyn and Kira Golovko as Natasha’s mother who adore their children as well as treat Bezukhov like family, and Nikolai Tolkachyov as Bezukhov’s ailing father in the first film who is dismissive of his son unaware of his rise into the social circle.

Oleg Yefremov and Vasily Lanovoy are terrific in their respective roles as Fyodor Dolkhov and Anatole Kuragin as two men who would destroy relationships with the former being Helene’s lover whom Bezukhov would duel with and the latter being Helene’s brother who would charm Natasha into a destructive affair. Irina Skobtseva and Irina Gubanova are fantastic in their respective roles as Bezukhov’s philandering wife Helene Kuragina and Natasha’s cousin Sonya as the former is a woman who marries Bezukhov only to humiliate him through her affairs and later bring trouble to Natasha while the latter is a conscience of sorts for Natasha who is trying to get her to realize that Kuragin is a horrible person. Antonina Shuranova is superb as Bolkonsky’s sister who is a bit wary of Natasha upon her marriage to her brother but realizes that she got manipulated by the likes of Kuragin and his sister. Anatoli Ktorov is excellent as Bolkonsky’s father as a royal figure who is concerned about his son’s decision to go to war while dealing with the chaos of it while also being a father figure to Bezukhov.

Boris Zakhava is fantastic as Mikhail Kutuzov as the field marshal for the Russian empire who runs the military as a man who is half-blind and over-the-hill as someone who leads Russia into war against Napoleon where he makes some blunders while is blind to what is really happening making the reluctant move to retreat in the fourth film. Vyacheslav Tikhonov is incredible as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky as a royal who is eager to rise in the ranks of importance only to be troubled by his encounters at war and later deal with loss and betrayal that would force him to deal with uncertainty as an officer during the Battle of Borodino that lead to some serious revelations for himself.

Ludmila Savelyeva is phenomenal as Natasha Rostova as a young woman who would become Bolkonsky’s wife as she is a woman eager to be part of this social circle as she is this embodiment of innocence in the first and second film until she meets Kuragin who would manipulate her as she later becomes a woman filled with regret and uncertainty as she deals with the chaos surrounding the invasion of Moscow. Finally, there’s Sergei Bondarchuk in a sensational performance as Pierre Bezukhov as the illegitimate son of a nobleman who is eager to be accepted while is someone who is intelligent and has a lot of qualities but is also someone who realizes about the realities of the world as he endures humiliation by his own wife and others while lamenting over his importance in the world.

Voyna I mir is an outstanding film series by Sergei Bondarchuk. Featuring a tremendous ensemble cast, evocative visuals, grand set pieces in both its ballroom and battle scenes, a sweeping music score, and incredible sound work. The four films as a whole is a monumental achievement of what epics could be as well as exploring characters during a crucial period in Russia’s history and the events that would define them. In the end, Voyna I mir is a magnificent film series by Sergei Bondarchuk.

Sergei Bondarchuk Films: (Fate of a Man) – (Waterloo (1970 film)) – (They Fought for Their Country) – (The Steppe) – (Red Bells) – (Red Bells II) – (Boris Gudonov) – (Quiet Flows the Don)

© thevoid99 2021


Dell said...

I've looked at the novel in libraries and bookstores. The mere size of it scares me off every time I think about reading it. Similarly, I put these movies out of my mind. Glad that you enjoyed them. One of these days I'm going to bite the bullet and at least watch these.

Brittani Burnham said...

I've always wanted to read this book, but then I look at the size of it and move on to something else. lol. Some day.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-The film is in four parts and it's available on Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray and its streaming service. The first film is the longest of the four at nearly 2 1/2 hours as I would suggest watching it one day at a time.

@Brittani-The film is considered the definitive adaptation as there was a version of the film from the 1950s starring Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn that wasn't any good.