Bondarchuk’s Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Parts I and II)

This movie is WOW

Notes on Parts 1 and 2 of Bondarchuk’s Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace rests in the TCM portion of HBO Max, like a sleeping leviathan. It’s a dream you haven’t had yet.

The perspective is omniscient: you are the horse driving the buggy, the woman at the fancy ball, the soldier slumped over the cannon.

After Pierre fights his duel with Dolokhov (the second best duel ever filmed, after the one in Barry Lyndon), the camera goes up, up, up to the tree tops, and then crashes down to Earth. The camera movement is perfectly attuned to the psychology of the character and the viewer.

DId Bondarchuk see Douglas Sirk? The colors and the family tensions in part 1 evoke the florid Written on the Wind. Did Terrance Malick see the last 20 minutes of part 1 of this film? There’s so much deep thinking about trees.

Jaw-dropping tacking shots and split screens and how did they get the wolf to emote that way?

The thing of it is that no matter what is happening, we always understand (even when it is not voice-over) exactly what the characters are thinking. The camera really exploits our empathy for the characters, for nature, for humanity…

I knew nothing about this movie. It’s not comparable to another movie (i.e. some Hollywood epic). There will never be another movie like it. I really recommend it.

I’m watching it in hour-ish chunks. If I can watch three seasons of Westworld, I can certainly watch 8-hours of this masterpiece. Confusingly, “part 1” ends 3/4 of the way through “film 1”. Whatevs.

The people at Janus Films are incredible.

Nefertiti-necked actress Lyudmila Saveleva plays Natasha Rostova. I read, I think in the Criterion notes (?), that she wasn’t considered much of an actress; more of a dancer. No way! She is perfect as Natasha. Impetuous but not dumb; naive by circumstance; all of her wrong moves are completely explicable and you feel the force of her emotion (which has a teenage seriousness that can’t be reckoned with).

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