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'Stalingrad' director Fedor Bondarchuk has epic bloodlines

Though he's an award-winning director in his own right in Russia, Fedor Bondarchuk had a challenge emerging from the shadow of his famous father, the late Soviet filmmaker and actor Sergei Bondarchuk, who starred in and directed the seven-hour version of "War and Peace," which won the 1969 foreign-language Oscar.

Bondarchuk, an actor and TV host, said that the Russian media are always looking for similarities between him and his father, who directed him in the 1986 film "Boris Godunov."

"So many journalists [in Russia] are trying to find a similar type of shooting and editing with my father," said Bondarchuk, who added, "it was not my idea to do the same thing."

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But comparisons are inevitable. Like his father, Bondarchuk thinks big. His first feature, "9th Company," a 2005 action-drama about the Soviet war in Afghanistan, was the biggest box-office hit of the year in Russia and won several film awards.

Now he's going the epic route with his latest film, "Stalingrad," an action-melodrama set during the brutal 1942-43 battle between the Soviet Union and Germany during World War II.  Not only is "Stalingrad" the first Russian movie made completely in 3-D and the first to be released in the IMAX format, but it is also the country's highest-grossing film ever, making more than $67 million in Russia and China.

Despite mixed reviews, the film was Russia's submission to the foreign-language film Oscar race. On Friday, Columbia is releasing the subtitled film on more than 300 IMAX 3-D screens in the U.S. for one week, with the hope of a second week on traditional screens.

"I am absolutely shocked about the results of 'Stalingrad,'" Bondarchuk said by phone from New York, where he was promoting the movie. "It is very emotional for me."

The bloody battle of Stalingrad has always interested Bondarchuk because of its importance in the Soviet Union's heroic fight against Nazi Germany and because his father fought in the Red Army during World War II.

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But he's not the first filmmaker to explore this seminal battle, which helped turn the tide of war against the Germans. In fact, Bondarchuk and one of the film's stars, German Thomas Kretschmann ("King Kong"), acted in separate "Stalingrad" features early in their careers.

"Stalingrad" revolves around brave Russian soldiers — including the director's son Sergey — who struggle to hold a building in the bombed-out city against the Germans. But the men soon discover that they are not alone in the building. The brave young woman who lives there becomes a beacon of hope for the squad as well as a love interest to one of the men.

Kretschmann plays a ruthless German officer, who loses sight of his mission when he becomes infatuated with another Russian woman struggling to survive.

The immense sets, which include war-torn buildings, shops and even a railway station, were erected near St. Petersburg. Several Americans were involved in the production. The team of 3-D supervisors and stereographers has worked on such films as "The Amazing Spider-Man" and the upcoming "Transformers: Age of Extinction." And the highly dramatic score was penned by Angelo Badalamenti of "Twin Peaks" fame.

Bondarchuk said he was creating a "new genre" of filmmaking in Russia by shooting "Stalingrad" in 3-D.

"It was my idea to create the world of World War II and clean up the border between the audience and the screen," he said. "It is about emotion and for the audience to be here in Stalingrad in November 1942."

susan.king@latimes.com

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