I am making my way through one of the most amazing films I have ever seen: Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1965-1968 Soviet era epic War and Peace (Voyna i mir).Amongst the many stunning aspects of the film, the battle sequences must be some of the best ever put on film. Here are a few screengrabs from the battle in part one:
The night sequence of the battery firing its canons, and then its retreat, visually rivals, and often exceeds, night sequences of other films:
Bondarchuk even takes the time to show the smoke and ash flying up from a campfire as seen from a wounded soldier’s perspective:
No CGI in 1965:
Many of the tracking shots remind me of John Ford’s films:
This last shot staggers the imagination. The troops swirl in a visual maelstrom as the camera pulls slowly back, turning the battle into a kind of dream or nightmare:
I found myself again and again comparing the battle sequences to those of Apocalypse Now (1979), at least for their shear scale and frightening beauty. I do not know if Coppola saw War and Peace before making his film, but I would not be surprised if he had.
The version I have access to is 403 minutes long, and my copy was due back to the library. So I will have to return and watch the rest later. So far the film has been both and joy and a kind of cinematic archaeological find. Great art can transcend both time and place, and good stories hold up forever.