MOSCOW — The late Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk’s final film, an adaptation of Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And Quiet Flows the Don,” has finally made it onto Russian screens –15 years after he finished shooting.
The movie has been reworked by his son, Fyodor Bondarchuk, into a seven-part Russian-language miniseries for Channel One that began Nov. 7.
It’s the end of a long story that typifies the last days of the Soviet film scene.
The elder Bondarchuk, a giant of the Soviet industry known for epics including 1968’s “War and Peace,” which won a foreign language Oscar, began the project in the late 1980s.
Lacking Russian coin, he turned to Italy for funding; pic was shot in English, with an international cast including Rupert Everett as Cossack hero Grigory Melikhov, alongside Ben Gazzara, F. Murray Abraham and Delphine Forest.
However, as the helmer was moving toward a final edit, his Italian producer, Enzo Rispoli, declared bankruptcy and the film was seized by the Italian bank behind the project.
The matter was unresolved in 1994 when Bondarchuk died of a heart attack, age 74. His wife Irina Skobtseva, who stars in “And Quiet Flows the Don,” believes his death was partly caused by the stress of losing control of the pic.
Fast-forward to 2004 when, after intervention from both Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Italo Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Channel One was able to buy back the material and rights on the film from the Italian parties.
Fyodor Bondarchuk, who had just finished his Afghan war drama “The 9th Company,” Russia’s foreign language hopeful for the upcoming Oscars, went back into the edit suites of the Mosfilm Studios on a very personal mission to finish his father’s project.
With only a cassette of a rough cut to work with, Bondarchuk admitted it proved a challenge — not least because of stylistic changes over 15 years.
“It helped that my father always shot with elements of high technology, so what we’re really talking about was adapting to the tempo and rhythm of today,” Bondarchuk says. Almost half the film, including battle scenes, were digitally reworked.
Online viewer reaction was mixed, with not only the gaps of time showing, but also other difficulties: “It’s hard to believe in Everett as a Cossack,” one Web site commented. However, the mini’s first episode scored a boffo 19 rating/47.9 share in Moscow and a 20.2/45.1 in Russia.