Monday, September 02, 2019

Voyna i mir / War and Peace (1967) 2017 digital restoration of the complete 7 hour version (Criterion / Mosfilm)

Cover art: Gary Kelley, 2019.

Война и мир / Voina i mir / Sota ja rauha / Krig och fred.
    SU 1967. PC: Mosfilm. D: Sergei Bondarchuk.  Based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy (1865–1869). Cast and credits: see my blog remarks on 27 April 2019.
    Criterion Collection – blu-ray released on 25 June 2019 – 2,35:1 – 2K restoration in 2017 by Mosfilm – 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
    In four parts:
Part I: Andrei Bolkonsky – 147 min in two chapters: 105+42 min (our print 107 min)
Part II: Natasha Rostova – 99 min (our print 80 min)
Part III: 1812 god / The Year 1812 – 82 min (our print 82 min)
Part IV: Pierre Bezukhov – 97 min (our print 94 min)
Total duration 7 h 5 min (our print 6 h 2 min)
    Blu-ray viewed twice at home in Helsinki: on 2-3 Sep and 6 Sep 2019.

Bonus materials:
– New interviews with cinematographer Anatoly Petritsky and filmmaker Fedor Bondarchuk, son of director Sergei Bondarchuk
–Two documentaries, from 1966 and 1969, about the making of the film
– Television program from 1967 on actor Ludmila Savelyeva, featuring Sergei Bondarchuk
– New program with historian Denise J. Youngblood (Bondarchuk’s “War and Peace”: Literary Classic to Soviet Cinematic Epic) detailing the cultural and historical contexts for the film
– Janus Films rerelease trailer
– New English subtitle translation
– An essay by critic Ella Taylor

Revisited the complete seven hour version of War and Peace which I had seen only once before – when it was telecast in Finland from 16 Dec 1971 till 8 Jan 1972. I then saw it on a black and white television receiver.

Meanwhile I have been seeing our six hour film prints, in both 35 mm and 70 mm, and in it Part III has stood out. Now I realize that in our prints Part III is the only one that is uncut.

It is unbelievable how much better War and Peace is in its complete version compared with the abridgement. This is not a case of "more of the same". It is like a comparison with an intact living being and an amputated one – say, like Anatol Kuragin before and after the amputation of his leg.

Part I is all-important in the introduction to the complex cast of characters, exemplary in Tolstoy and faithfully reproduced in Bondarchuk and Vasili Solovyov's screenplay. Part II, too, is essential in covering key stages in Natasha's éducation sentimentale.

The main reason for me to see this complete edition was to check what is my favourite scene in literature: Natasha's epiphany / anagnorisis / peripeteia in the evacuation from Moscow, when she orders furniture to be taken away from the carriages and war invalids invited instead. That is the moment when she grows up from a carefree girl to a grown-up woman. To my surprise the sequence is unchanged, as bland and fleeting in the long version as it is in the short one. Part IV to which it belongs is of almost the same length in both versions anyway.

The whole dynamics of the film is different in the long version. There is a better sense of space and a better sense of pace. The introductions to main issues are better prepared, and there is more time to digest the meanings of major turns.

Key images emerge more powerfully, such as the ancient oak, "the tree of life" that becomes compelling for Andrei Bolkonsky after he has survived a near death experience at Austerlitz and is also recovering from the death of his wife at childbirth. A sight of Natasha has just revived his joy of life again.

The digital transfer is beautiful and gives a fine sense of the colour world. I hesitate to confess this, but visually the blu-ray is more gripping for me than our 70 mm print. The 70 mm print gives a solid experience in cinema space, and it does justice to the composition. But our print is soft, the colour is faded, and shrinkage in 70 mm means that there are issues in the magnetic sound track.

Anatoli Petrisky's cinematography is of the highest order, and this lovely blu-ray renders his colour palette impressively and helps make sense of the little detail on the breathtakingly epic canvas.

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