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 Sergei Bondarchuk

Born:   25 September 1920
Deceased:   20 October 1994

Outstanding film director and brilliant actor


Outstanding film director and brilliant actor Sergei Bondarchuk (1920 – 1994) underwent breath-taking, almost improbable rises in his life as well as dizzy failures and disappointments in the end.

Sergei Bondarchuk was born in 1920 in a Ukrainian settlement. At the age of 17 he first appeared on stage. Bondarchuk was already studying at a drama school in Rostov when the war broke out. Then there was battle-front life – in Grozny, Armavir, and Mozdok.

In 1948 he played his first role in “The The Young Guard” (aka Molodaya Gvardia) film, which became his diploma work.

In 1952 Stalin praised actor Bondarchuk for his role in ‘Taras Shevchenko’, and the day after it the actor was conferred on the title of the People’s Artist of the USSR (the highest title people normally got after dozens of years of creative work). In spite of the fact, Bondarchuk would always expand or even sweep away the limitations the communist leaders put for the Soviet cinema.

It is worth mentioning that Bondarchuk’s acting in ‘Taras Shevchenko’ got international acclaim as well – he was awarded at the festival in Karlovy Vary. His debut as a film director was not less successful: the movie ‘Fate of a Man’ (aka Sudba cheloveka (1959)) about a Russian soldier going through the Second World War brought him the Grand-Prix of the Moscow International Film Festival.

It took Bondarchuk three years (1965 - 1967) to film his major work, ‘War and Peace’ (aka Voyna i mir) after the famous novel by Leo Tolstoy. The film director omitted almost nothing from the great classic – and the film turned out epochal. No one before Bondarchuk had shot battle scenes on such a grand scale and with such skill. In 1967 ‘War and Peace’ was awarded with Oscar, the highest appraisal of American cinema academy. For several years the film was on screens of the biggest capitals of the world.

After successful overseas release of ‘War and Peace’ Bondarchuk got an invitation from Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis to create the film ‘Waterloo’ (1970) in which the Russian film director once again proved his talent to combine thorough psychological development of characters with grand-scale staging of battle scenes.

Going on working as an actor Bondarchuk revealed wide ranging acting capabilities and sound traditionalism of good quality. His most remarkable roles include Astrov in “Uncle Vanya” (Dyadya Vanya (1970) directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, Academician Kurchatov in “Choice of Purpose” (Vybor tseli (1974)) by Igor Talankin, father Sergii (1979) in the same name movie also by Talankin, and Montanelly in “The Gadfly” (Ovod (1980)) by director Nikolai Mashchenko.

Directing The Stepp (Step’ (1977)) after the same name story by Chekhov, Bondarchuk accomplished his long-standing dream of screening one of his most favorite works of literature.

After that Bondarchuk decided to screen John Reed’s two books of reports: “Insurgent Mexico” and “Ten days that shook the world” on two revolutions of the early 20th century – the Mexican and the Russian ones. This resulted in the political film-dialogue “Red Bells” (Krasnye kolokola (1982)) about the role of masses in historical process.

Bondarchuk took up creating his last film, the screen-version of Pushkin’s tragedy “Boris Godunov” (about the Russian distemper of the early 17th century) jointly with Czechoslovakia, Western Berlin, and Poland. Bondarchuk himself played Boris Godunov. Almost nobody of those with whom the filming started could stay till the end, as not many turned able to cope with the director’s tough temper. The film was released in April 1985, just before the Perestroika.

In the early 1990s Bondarchuk signed a contract with an Italian company for filming a screen version of the famous novel by the Soviet classic Mikhail Sholokhov “And Quiet Flows the Don” (aka Tikhi Don) but the film was not completed by some commercial reasons.

Sergei Bondarchuk died on October 20, 1994.

His children followed the family tradition. Sergei’s daughter of the first marriage Natalia (born in 1950) is an actress and a film director. Elena (1962), his daughter of the second marriage is now one of the leading actresses of Gorky Moscow Art Theatre. His son Fyodor Bondarchuk (1964) is a very popular director and actor today.



Vera Ivanova and Mikhail Manykin


Tags: Sergey Bondarchuk Russian cinema Russian film directors   

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