Leading post-WWII actor who later turned to directing with epic reults. While studying under Sergei Gerasimov, Bondarchuk was cast with other students in the director's "The Young Guard" (1948) and later took lead roles in such noted Soviet films as "Taras Shevchenko" (1951) and "Othello" (1955), excelling at tragic, heroic parts.
He made his directing debut with the audacious "Destiny of a Man" (1959), in which he stars as an ordinary, unheroic soldier struggling to survive in a German POW camp. Bondarchuk's compelling performance helped the film win the top prize at that year's Moscow Film Festival and earned international acclaim for the director.
After being cast as a Russian POW who escapes from a German camp in Roberto Rossellini's "Era Notte a Roma" (1960), Bondarchuk took on the job of directing the Soviet Union's grandest film production, and the world's most expensive (estimated at $100,000,000)--Tolstoy's "War and Peace".
The eight-hour-long resulting film was originally released in three parts, one part per year from 1965 to 1967. Shot in 70mm wide-screen and color, it is a truly epic achievement, with Bondarchuk starring as Pierre and creating a brilliant visual correlative to Tolstoy's prose. "War and Peace" earned the 1968 Academy Award for best foreign film and is considered one of the finest literary adaptations in cinema history.
In 1970 Bondarchuk began teaching drama at VGIK while continuing to direct and act. His subsequent films, including the epics "Waterloo" (1970) and "Boris Godunov" (1986), did not lived up to his earlier achievements, though they bear the stamp of a mature, accomplished artist.