Against Human Logic
WAR AND PEACE (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1968)
posted by Christine
To the young woman who sat in front of me during Parts 3 and 4 of War and Peace last Thursday:
It’s okay not to like a movie. We’re all adults. We don’t have to pretend to really enjoy something just because it’s been described as “the greatest movie ever made.” But if you do think it’s really boring, you should probably just do what I do when an episode of Family Guy is dragging on: leave the room. If your boyfriend wants to stay, that’s okay! You guys don’t have to do everything together all the time. I mean, I left my boyfriend at home for War and Peace. He was cool. I was cool. We both were cool.
Moving onto the film. I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience like it. The battle scenes were just unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. Pre-CGI, thousands of real bodies choreographed, horses bucking riders, fires, expolosions, fires, explosions, bullets, smoke, and so many beautiful birds’-eye shots that were, I’m guessing, shot from a helicopter? Seeing Pierre wander into battle in his white suit and top hat had a new power — Bondarchuk made it absurd in a way that Tolstoy simply couldn’t in words. (Of course, Tolstoy also gave Pierre’s intellectual evolution a weight that the film doesn’t even try to match — when he announced his intent to assassinate Napoleon, audience members laughed, thinking it was a joke. It is not.)
Lady in front of me, you might feel better knowing that I missed the balls from Parts 1 and 2, too. I loved watching Lyudmila Savelyeva dance. (She was a ballerina, after all.) I also loved her haircut. (I also went home and gave myself her haircut after the first two parts.) And Vyacheslav Tikhonov! Maybe he was the reason I didn’t mind having left my boyfriend at home. But twelve hundred pages is not easily whittled down to 8 hours, and of War and Peace, Bondarchuk chose to make Mostly War. Certainly the movie is more deeply affecting if you’ve read the book and know that the endless landscape shots are standing in for philosophical meditations on the Russian people; and you might wonder why Bondarchuk bothers to put Sonya in the movie at all. But I digress. Perhaps the only thing more inconceivable that this film was made at all is the fact that it was only Bondarchuk’s second directorial stint. Destiny of a Man is moving to the top of my netflix queue.