Part III deals with the death of Prince Andrei’s father; Pierre’s visit to the young Natasha; and his visit to the battlefield of Borodino, where he wanders amidst the carnage, bombast and explosiveness of hand-to-hand combat and its skirmishes, cannons and the mingling of flesh, horses, earth and sky.
The film remains posey, conventional and more often opting for tableaus, rather than the more personal and interpretive look at the Napoleonic wars and their effect on the Russian people and country. But its sheer size soon casts a spell; that, and the dinning sound of battle. The camera will suddenly zoom up from the field, disclosing thousands of scurrying men, horses and battle gear, or it will watch one character face death near a sizzling bomb, or climb dizzily among the trees.
Sergei Bondarchuk has stayed completely with the Tolstoy novel and translated it ambitiously to the screen. It sometimes, therefore, appears literary but has an epic drive that manages to overcome its academic trappings.
A man’s leg shot off, and his quizzical look as awareness dawns; horses hurtling off their feet; cannon exploding; men rallying, running, withdrawing, going on again. All this begins to take on a hypnotic quality, and somehow the logistics of battle are clear. Napoleon, in the midst of hundreds of bodies, brooding, is the final shot as a series of frozen stills front for a stentorian voice extolling the victory of the Russian moral drive over the French will of conquest.