Eight Hours of Tolstoy

And yet it’s still shorter than the novel

This two-part rendition of War and Peace represents more than a prestige mega-

production; this is the barbaric yawp of the Soviet film industry circa 1968, an entertainment A-bomb test announcing to the world: “Here is what we are capable of.” (The Kremlin was eager enough for a decisive blow in the cinematic-spectacle race to put a Red Army detachment under star-director Sergei Bondarchuk’s command.) Far from the front lines of the Battle of Borodino, Bondarchuk’s camera platoon applies its virtuosity to the country estates and pastel ballrooms that serve as display cases for the film’s Natasha (teen ballerina Ludmila Savelyeva). The novel’s domestic drama is judiciously streamlined—subplots pared off, characters demoted to the background—but there’s still an impulse to get everything in. (Bondarchuk relies on voice-over to draw things together.) But of course it’s magnificently presumptuous—and fearless—to even attempt to transfer Tolstoy’s historical-psychological scope, intact, to another medium. It’s as hubristic as invading Russia.

Fri., Dec. 7, 1 & 7 p.m., 2007

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