Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Voyna i mir

My wife and I watched Voyna i mir (1968) over the holidays.  At 405 minutes, we broke up our viewing over three nights.  It is really incredible to watch, not only for the lavish ball scenes and expansive battle scenes that rival that of Alexander Nevsky, but for the depth of emotion that Sergei Bondarchuk plumbs and the wonderful performances of Bondarchuk himself as Pierre Bezukhov and Lyudmila Savelyeva as Natasha.  Bondarchuk lets the story unfold naturally, not rushing any aspect of it, so that one gets the full feel of Tolstoy's epic novel.

Bondarchuk took various viewpoints and even includes some sage advice of an old oak tree to Bolkonsky, and captured the addled mind of a wolf as he is being chased by a hunting party.  But, it is the lovely Natasha that remains front and center in this movie.

Fascinating closure, with Napoleon rushing back to Paris and his Grand Armee left to fed for itself in the harsh winter, with stragglers finding their way into Russian camps and sharing fires and comraderie, as if to say men are all the same and that only emperors and generals are to blame for these wars, although Tolstoy also hails the Russian spirit for so gallantly defending itself at Borodino, and leaving Napoleon with a hollow victory when he reached Moscow.

Interesting reading about Prokofiev's operatic version of the novel, which was to be initially staged by Sergei Eisenstein, but went through various transformations before finally being staged in 1953.

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