Book Review: Bondarchuk's War and Peace: Literary Classic to Soviet Cinematic Epic


by Denise J. Youngblood

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2014. Pp. xii, 176. Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700620052

Filming Russia's Great War Novel

Having already authored books on films of the Cold War and Soviet war films, in this volume Prof. Youngblood (Vermont) tackles Sergei Bondarchuk’s lavish four part, seven hour 1966-1967 cinematic version of Tolstoy’s 1869 masterpiece. Youngblood’s treatment takes a multilevel approach, as it touches on Tolstoy’s philosophy of history, Soviet film, politics in post-Stalin Russia, the Cold War, and more, all of which had some influence on the making of the picture.

The first chapter discusses the complex political origins of the project, in part inspired by King Vidor’s 1956 American-Italian film version of the novel, which had a mixed reception in Russian circles, and touches upon the choices for director, actors, and more, with some critical comments about Bondarchuk’s decision to cast himself as the much younger Pierre and on the politics of film making the USSR. The following three chapters cover the film specifically as film epic, the film as adaptation of the novel, and the how the film and book reflect as history. There are a number of insights, including comparisons between the actors in both films, and several amusing anecdotes, such as the fact that the picture was previewed for authenticity by a large group of senior Soviet officers, including many marshals. The fifth chapter compares Bondarchuk’s film with Vidor’s, for the most part favorably, which is certainly an accurate assessment. The final chapter takes a look at Bondarchuk’s following epic, his 1970 Waterloo, was poorly received at the time, but has since come to be seen more favorably. The book concludes with a general overview of Bondarchuk’s two great epics and some critical analysis.

Anyone interested in war film will certainly find this of great value.

Note: This work is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-0-7006-2040-1


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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