Nationality: Russian. Born: Sergei Fedorovich Bondarchuk in Belozersk, Ukraine, 25 September 1920. Education: Attended Rostov Theatrical Institute (studies interupted by World War II); studied under Sergei Gerasimov at All Union State Institute of Cinematography. Military Service: served in army during World War II. Family: Married Irina Skobtseva, 1959, children: Aljona and Fiodr. Career: Began acting with army unit; 1946–48—member of Actor's Faculty, Moscow Film Institute; 1948—cast by Sergei Gerasimov in first film, The Young Guard; 1960s—spent six years preparing and filming War and Peace. Awards: People's Artist of the Soviet Union, 1952; Hero of Soviet Labor, 1980; Order of Red Banner; Order of Lenin (twice). Died: Of blood disease, in Moscow, Russia, 20 October 1994.
Films as Actor:
The Young Guard (Gerasimov) (as Valko); The Story of a RealMan (Stolper) (as Gvozdev); Michurin (Dovzhenko)
The Path of Glory (Buneev, Rybakov, and Shveitser) (as District Party Secretary)
A Knight of the Gold Star (The Bearer of the Golden Star) (Raizman) (as Tutarinov)
Taras Shevchenko (Savchenko) (title role)
Admiral Ushakov and The Ships Are Storming the Bastions(Attack from the Sea) (Romm) (as Tikhon Prokoviev)
It Mustn't Be Forgotten (This Must Not Be Forgotten) (Lukov)(as Garmash) 1955 Poprigunya (The Gadfly; The Grasshopper) (Samsonov) (as Dr. Dymov); Neokonchennaya povest (The Unfinished Tale; Unfinished Story) (Ermler) (as Yershov)
Othello (Yutkevich) (title role); Ivan Franko (Levchuk) (title role)
Two from the Same Block (Two from One Housing Block)(Gurin and Ibragimov); Pages from the Story (Kryzhanovsky)(as Stage reader)
Shli soldaty (The Soldier Marched) (Trauberg) (as Matvei Krylov)
A Spring Wind on Venaya (as narrator)
Seryozha (A Summer to Remember) ((Danelia and Talankin) (as Korostelyov); Era notte a Roma (It Was Night in Rome) (Rossellini) (as Fyodor)
Povest plamennykh (Story of the Turbulent Years; The Flaming Years; Chronicle of Flaming Years) (Solntseva) (as narrator)
Bitka na Neretvi (Battle of Neretva) (Bulajic) (as Martin)
Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya) (Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky) (as Dr. Astrov)
Molchaniye Doktoraivens (The Silence of Dr. Evans) (Metalnikov) (as Dr. Evans)
Such High Mountains (Solntseva) (as Ivan Nikolayevich)
The Choice of a Goal (Talankin) (as Kurchatov)
La Bataille des trois rois (Barka)
Films as Director:
Sudba cheloveka (Destiny of a Man; Fate of a Man) (+ ro as Andrei Sokolov)
Voina i mir (War and Peace) (+ sc, ro as Pierre Bezukhov)
Waterloo (+ co-sc)
Oni srazhalis za rodinu (They Fought for the Country) (+ co-sc, ro as Zvyagintsev)
The Peaks of Zelengore
The Steppe (+ sc)
Mexico in Flames; Krasnye Kolakola; October
Red Bells: I've Seen the Birth of the New World (I Saw the New World Born)
Boris Godunov (for TV) (+ sc)
By BONDARCHUK: books—
Za druzheskie disskussie, Moscow, 1959.
Zhelanie chuda, Moscow, 1984.
By BONDARCHUK: articles—
Interview in Film a doba (Prague), October 1972.
"Dolgi i pravo hudožnika," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), August 1973.
Interview with S. Tschertok, in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), April 1975.
"Ot serdca k serduc," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), May 1980.
On BONDARCHUK: books—
Shalunovsky, V., Sergei Bondarchuk, Moscow, 1959.
Khaniutin, I., Sergei Bondarchuk, Moscow, 1961.
Ignateva, N. Sergei Bondarchuk, Moscow, 1961.
On BONDARCHUK: articles—
"Director of the Year," in International Film Guide, London, 1969.
Zolotussky, Igor, "War and Peace: A Soviet View," in London Magazine, March 1969.
Gillett, John, "Thinking Big," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1970.
Guralnik, Uran, "Vast as an Ocean," in Films and Filming (London), September-October 1970.
Lind, John, "The Road to Waterloo," in Focus on Film (London), September-October 1970.
"The Coming of the Russians," in Action (Los Angeles), June 1971.
Zubkov, J., "Akter-avtor obraza," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), February 1972.
Citrinjak, G., "Zarkie dni ijulja," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), January 1975.
Tolcenova, N., "Pora Cehova," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1977.
Gerasimov, Sergei, "Soviet Cinema: Films, Personalities, Problems," in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 271, 1979.
Karaganov, A., and others, "Poesija pravdy," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), September 1980.
"Profile," in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 5, 1986.
Obituary in New York Times, 21 October 1994.
Claes, G., and F. Sartor, "Adieu," Film en Televise + Video (Brussels), no. 447, December 1994.
* * *
Sergei Bondarchuk made his film acting debut as a stock company player while still attending film school in Moscow. One of his earliest important roles was in Gerasimov's The Young Guard. But Bondarchuk's undisputed talent only became evident in his seventh feature, Taras Shevchenko, in which he played the great Ukrainian poet of that name who also wrote the script. The deficiencies of Shevchenko's imperfect screenplay made Bondarchuk's introductory scenes seem cold and rhetorical, but in the scenes from the close of the author's life on through the final exile episode, showing the inhumanity of the czar's soldiers, Bondarchuk succeeded on his own in raising the film to a truly tragic level.
Bondarchuk's acclaim in this role, and his being given the title of State Artist in 1952, made him one of the most prominent actors in the Soviet Union. Yet with the exception of Samsonov's The Grasshopper, in which he starred as a physician locked in a marriage with a woman unimpressed by his devotion to duty and achievements for the common folk, most of his films of the 1950s were not as impressive as his early success had promised—even though he was given important parts in films by most of the country's best directors, including Yutkevich's Othello, one of the first Soviet filmings of a Shakespeare play.
Bondarchuk's interest in Sholokhov's story "The Destiny of Man," about the struggles of people to maintain some vestige of their former lives while surrounded by war, pushed him to direct as well as star in the film version. The result was a successful blending of Bondarchuk's already-recognized thespian talents with—for an actor and first-time director—a stunningly cinematic visual style. This led to the Lenin Prize and a succession of films as actor and director in both the Soviet Union and abroad.
The overall result of these personal triumphs led Bondarchuk to attempt a definitive film version of Tolstoy's massive work War and Peace. One of the most expensive (estimates reach as high as $100 million) and exquisitely staged Soviet films, the ambitious undertaking took two years to reach the screen. The immense scope of the film, which ran more than eight hours in its original version and was shown in Soviet cinemas over several nights, was amply balanced by Bondarchuk's poetic vision of the broad spaces of the Russian landscape. For sheer spectacle, its battle scenes have yet to be surpassed. Bondarchuk himself played the key role of Pierre Bezukhov, Tolstoy's intellectual hero and mouthpiece. Though some critics felt him too old for the part, Bondarchuk won the Moscow Festival Prize for his performance. The film itself, released abroad in a slightly scaled down six-hour version, also shown over several nights, captured the 1968 Oscar for best foreign film.
Bondarchuk followed War and Peace with another epic, Waterloo, for Dino DeLaurentiis, in which he took only a small role. It too was highlighted by battles scenes of bravura size and spectacle, and caused him to be compared with Orson Welles, who also had a small role in the film, because of their both being actor/directors, their robust appearance, and their grandiosity of purpose.
The film was not a hit, however. Moreover, Bondarchuk had been unable to control the volcanic temperament of his scenery-chewing star, Rod Steiger (as Napoleon). Thereafter, he retreated to his native industry where his autonomy was assured; most of his subsequent films received little exposure elsewhere. They included smaller scale projects inspired by Chekhov and Sholokhov, and a return to the epic format with the two-part Mexico in Flames, a film based on the career of the journalist John Reed, the only American to be honored with burial in the Kremlin. A Soviet counterpart and response to Warren Beatty's Hollywoodized Reds, the film chronicles the maverick Reed's exploits covering and participating in both the Russian and Mexican revolutions.
Bondarchuk's work as both actor and director typically focuses on sturdy characters full of mental stamina and patriotic pathos with a credo that is indomitably optimistic. At the time of his death in 1994, Bondarchuk had become a living monument in Soviet film, and arguably its most important figure since that earlier Sergei named Eisenstein.
—Karel Tabery, updated by John McCarty