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Film / War and Peace (1956)

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"I want to discover... everything! I want to discover why I know what's right and still do what's wrong. I want to discover what happiness is, and what value there is in suffering. I want to discover why men go to war, and what they really say deep in their hearts when they pray. I want to discover what men and women feel when they say they love."
Pierre Bezukhov
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War and Peace is an American 1956 Historical Fiction drama film based on the novel of the same name. It was directed by King Vidor (who also co-wrote) and scored by Nino Rota. It starred Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostova, Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezukhov, and Mel Ferrer as Andrei Bolkonsky.

The film, like the book, focuses on several interconnected nobles in 1800s Russia. Pierre Bezukhov, the bastard son of Russia's richest man, inherits his father's fortune and enters an ill-fated marriage with Hélène Kuragina (Anita Ekberg). Andrei Bolkonsky goes off to war to seek his purpose. Nicholas Rostov (Jeremy Brett) goes to war for glory, while his sister Natasha Rostova grows up and falls in love with Andrei, only to be corrupted by Hélène's rakish brother Anatole (Vittorio Gassman). All the while, Napoléon Bonaparte (Herbert Lom) proceeds with his invasion of Russia, threatening the relative stability of the upper class and forcing the characters to grow and mature.

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Other actors with roles in the film are Helmut Dantine as Fedor Dolokhov, Anna Maria Ferrero as Marya Bolkonskaya, Oskar Homolka as Mikhail Kutuzov, and John Mills as Platon Karataev. Despite the total runtime of 208 minutes, the film is still a heavily condensed version of its source material.


Tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The film cuts out a lot of its Doorstopper source material in favor of focusing more on Natasha, Pierre, and Andrei. Elements toned down or cut entirely include the Sonya/Nikolai/Marya triangle, many of the war details, and the epilogue.
  • Composite Character: Since Marya Dmitriyevna Akhrosimova is cut from the story, Sonya takes the initiative in preventing Natasha's eloping with Anatole; she locks her in her room and sends for Pierre so he can drive Anatole away at the gate.
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  • The Film of the Book: The film adaptation of the novel War and Peace.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Pierre and Natasha walking away arm in arm through the grounds of the Rostov estate in Moscow, having found each other again.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: In this poster the "peace" of the characters have a blue background, while the "war" has an orange background.
  • Rule of Three: A fancy Russian lady in a fancy carriage is seen three times. As the French are pulling out of Moscow, she's riding away; Pierre contemptuously compares such army groupies to the lice that have to stick around a dog. A later scene shows soldiers struggling to get the fancy Russian lady's fancy carriage through a field of thick soupy mud. Still later, after the snows have come, we see the fancy carriage stuck in a drift. A soldier opens the door to the carriage and the frozen corpse of the Russian lady tumbles out.
  • Snow Means Death: It certainly does for the straggling remnant of the French army retreating from Moscow. The retreat, which had already become difficult, becomes harrowing as the cold of winter arrives, and corpses start getting left behind in the snow.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: The very first shot is a graphic showing Napoleon's France taking over Western Europe.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: Apparently upper-class Russians do the squat dance too, as seen at a drunken party attended by Pierre early in the film.
  • You Know What to Do: Dolokhov tells his men that they know what to do as they are leading some bedraggled French prisoners away. Shots ring out offscreen as the Russians execute the prisoners.

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