It’s hard to do cinematic justice to any good novel, let alone the greatest of Russia’s many great novels, Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace. But Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk somehow managed to pull it off. Reviewing Bondarchuk’s film back in 1969, a young Roger Ebert wrote:
“War and Peace” is the definitive epic of all time. It is hard to imagine that circumstances will ever again combine to make a more spectacular, expensive, and — yes — splendid movie. Perhaps that’s just as well; epics seem to be going out of favor, replaced instead by smaller, more personal films. Perhaps this greatest of the epics will be one of the last, bringing the epic form to its ultimate statement and at the same time supplying the epitaph.
No corners were cut, and no expenses spared, in making the film. Indeed, the film (available on DVD here) was made “at a cost of $100,000,000, with a cast of 120,000, all clothed in authentic uniforms, and the Red Army was mobilized to recreate Napoleon’s battles exactly (it is claimed) as they happened.” What’s more, 35,000 costumes were made for the production, and many Soviet museums contributed artifacts for the production design. That’s staggering, even by today’s standards.
Released in four parts between 1965 and 1967, the Academy Award-winning film runs more than seven hours and you can now find it playing on YouTube. You can watch Part 1 here, and here you have Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. And if you need subtitles, click CC at the bottom of the videos. The film is, of course, listed in our collection of Free Movies Online.
Thanks Ammar for the heads up on this film!