War and Peace (1968): Sergei Bondarchuk’s Oscar Winner, Adaptation of Tolstoy’s 1869 Famous Novel

Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, 1956-present

1968: Year 13: Soviet Film

War and Peace, the Soviet epic film directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, was an ambitious adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 famous novel of the same title.

The film was released in four installments throughout 1966 and 1967.

It starred Bondarchuk in the leading role of Pierre Bezukhov, alongside Vyacheslav Tikhonov and Ludmila Savelyeva, who depicted Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostova.

The most expensive film made in the Soviet Union, it was produced by the Mosfilm studios between 1961 and 1967. It enjoyed considerable support from the Soviet authorities and the Red Army, which provided hundreds of horses and over ten thousand soldiers as extras.

Upon its release, the film became a phenomenal success with audiences, selling approximately 135 million tickets in the USSR.

War and Peace also won the Grand Prix in the Moscow Film Festival, and the Oscar Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Some critics consider it to be the grandest epic film ever made, due to its monumental production.

Narrative Structure:

Part I: Andrei Bolkonsky

In Saint Petersburg of 1805, Pierre Bezukhov, the illegit son of a rich nobleman, is introduced to high society. His friend, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, joins the Imperial Russian Army as aide-de-camp of General Mikhail Kutuzov in the War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon. Pierre attracts the attention of Hélène Kuragina and marries her, only to learn through rumor that she has been unfaithful and slept with Fyodor Dolokhov, an intimate of Hélène’s brother Anatole.

Andrei takes part in the failed campaign in Austria, where he witnesses the Battle of Schöngrabern and the Battle of Austerlitz. He is badly wounded (and mistaken for dead), but he returns to his father’s estate in time to witness his wife Lisa die in childbirth.

Part II: Natasha Rostova

In the end of 1809, Natasha, a count’s young daughter attends her first ball at age 16. Andrei Bolkonsky falls in love with her and intends to marry her, but his father demands they wait. Andrei travels abroad, and Natasha desperately longs for him. But she then meets the handsome Anatole Kuragin who falls in love with her. Overwhelmed Natasha decides she prefers him over Andrei. At the last minute, she regrets her choice and abandons her plans to elope with Anatole. However, Andrei has heard of her plans and declares their betrothal is over. Natasha suffers a nervous breakdown. Pierre, trying to calm her down, suddenly announces he loves her.

Part III: The Year 1812
In 1812, Napoleon’s Army invades Russia. Field Marshal Kutuzov is appointed by the Tsar to defend the land. Kutuzov asks Andrei to join him as a staff officer, but he requests a command in the field. Pierre approaches the battlefield of the upcoming confrontation between the armies during the Battle of Borodino, he volunteers to assist in an artillery battery. Andrei’s unit waits in the reserve, but he is hit by a shell and both he and Anatole suffer severe wounds. The battle involves hundreds of thousands of soldiers, thousands of horses, hundreds of cannons firing from both sides. French Army forces the Russian Army to retreat leaving Moscow unprotected. Napoleon advances on Moscow.

Part IV: Pierre Bezukhov

Moscow is set ablaze by the retreating Russians, and the Rostovs flee their estate, taking wounded soldiers–unbeknownst to them, Andrei is also among them. Pierre, dressed as a peasant, tries to assassinate Napoleon but is taken prisoner. As the French are forced to retreat, he is marched for months with the Grande Armée, until freed by partisans. The French Armies are defeated by Field Marshal Kutuzov in the Battle of Krasnoi. Andrei is recognized and is brought to his estate. He forgives Natasha on his deathbed. She reunites with Pierre and they marry as Moscow is being rebuilt.