The screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel 'War and Peace" won the most prestigious cinematic prize - the Academy Award Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film on April 14, in 1969.
Directed by a renowned Soviet film maker, Sergey Bondarchuk, it became the most expensive and longest picture to have won this award, and also the first Russian film to win an award in this category. With the original running time of almost nine hours, and an estimated cost of $100 million (which would be around 500 million in today's measurements), it was filmed over several years in the 1960s. It was released in the USSR in four feature length parts: "Andrey Bolkonsky," "Natasha Rostova," "1812," and "Pierre Bezukhov."
The movie is a complex composition built on the idea of the close and inseparable connection between individuals and the evolution of history, with two main story lines intertwined - a story of love, and another of war against Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.
Sergey Bondarchuk considered the classic novel “War and Peace” as a creation so perfect, and its strength to impact people so great, that there was no need to rethink or remake it, as many others have attempted. That is why he remained completely faithful, and displayed dramatic authenticity to the original novel written by the ingenious Tolstoy. From each individual character with his inner world to historical events, he strived to keep as close to the plot line of the original text as he possibly could.
Before this, there had not been a movie that could even closely match the immensity of the battle and crowd scenes, which were never compromised by computer generated special effects. Unlike today, when special technology exists that enables the appearance of large masses of people to be portrayed on the screen, it was necessary for thousands of people to take part in the filming of War and Peace. The production included 300 speaking parts, and over 120,000 extras - and same care to detail was given over each episodic part as it would over the image of the main characters.
A great example of this is the widely proclaimed "the greatest battle scene ever filmed" - the battle of Borodino. Taking up nearly an hour in the movie with over 100 thousand Red Army troops, it has entered a place in the Guinness book of Records, and earned Bondarchuk the reputation of an outstanding producer of battle scenes and history plots. War and Peace is filled with other immense moments, which are declared by movie critics as "overwhelming," including the mixture of images of Moscow burning, snapshots of Russia’s aristocratic life, and ‘one of the most romantic moments in cinema history’ – the first dance at the ball between Natasha Rostova and Prince Andrey Bolkonsky.
There have been other adaptations of Tolstoy’s classic book, including King Vidor’s version in 1956 starring Audrey Hepburn, and a British mini series with Anthony Hopkins in 1972. But Bondarchuk’s scale of success has never been beaten. War and Peace was awarded many prizes apart from the Oscar during the same year, including the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and awards from international film festivals in Venice and Moscow.