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Film / War and Peace (1966)

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War and Peace is a film series from the Soviet Union, released 1966-67, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk.

It is, of course, an adaptation of the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. The film opens in 1805 as Pierre Bezhukov (played by Bondarchuk), son of a nobleman, is making the rounds of St. Petersburg high society. While Pierre wants no part of The Napoleonic Wars, his friend Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (Vyacheslav Tikhonov) joins the army, and narrowly escapes death when Napoleon crushes the Russian and Austrians at the battle of Austerlitz.

Bolkonsky comes back home after the war and meets Natasha Rostova, daughter of Count Rostov. They fall in love and get engaged. Pierre for his part marries the beautiful Hélène Kuragina, but the marriage is a disaster, and she cheats on him. Natasha strays as well, falling in love with Prince Anatol Kuragin while Bolkonsky is touring Europe. An enraged Bolkonsky breaks off their engagement, only for Pierre, still stuck in his horrible marriage to Hélène, to proclaim his love for Natasha. All of these romantic entanglements are rendered temporarily irrelevant when Napoleon invades Russia in 1812.

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War and Peace came ten years after an epic American film adaptation directed by King Vidor (which was screened in the Soviet Union in 1959). The Soviets, miffed at their American Cold War rivals producing a successful adaptation of their story, elected to make one of their own. Mosfilm spared no expense; the film cost nearly 8.3 million rubles, some $70 million in American dollars of fifty years later. The film was made to be even more faithful to the book than the Vidor film, and consequently ran for seven hours and 11 minutes. It was released in Russia in 1966 and 1967 in four separate installments, and was a box-office smash.


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Tropes:

  • Abandoned Area: Moscow, after almost everyone evacuates in Part IV. Bits of paper drift through empty streets. Napoleon Bonaparte is shown all by himself, walking through the halls of a silent, abandoned Kremlin.
  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Prince Bolkonsky's scheme to break up Andrei and Natasha works only too well, as she falls madly in love with Kuragin the rake while Andrei is off at Tilsit for a year.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Pierre is startled to see a right leg, severed at the knee, lying on the ground at Borodino. The soldier the leg was once attached to is carried away by his buddies.
  • As You Know: These exact words (in Russian, anyway) are used by someone affiliated with the Bezhukov family, who tells the Count's wife that Count Bezhukov has passed over his legitimate heirs and left everything to his illegitimate son Pierre.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence:
    • The first part of Part I closes with the Battle of Austerlitz, the camera tracking high into the sky until the thousands of circling cavalrymen and the volleys of artillery fire are dwarfed by the surrounding Austrian countryside.
    • The epic Battle of Borodino sequence, with smoke, flame, explosions, cannon fire, tracking shots, crane shots, thousands of extras, and hundreds of cavalrymen galloping across the field in grand charges. It closes Part III.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Pierre has a little bit of a breakdown while being held by the French in Part IV, going Laughing Mad for a bit and ranting straight at the camera about how the French are holding not only him but his "immortal soul".
  • Call-Back: As the French pursue the Russian army into Russia's interior, Kutuzov promises that before it's all over, the French will be eating horse meat. Near the end, as the remnants of the French army retreat, one scene shows French soldiers butchering a horse.
  • Cliffhanger: Part II ends with a bang, as the domestic drama of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei is suddenly swept aside by the French invading Russia in 1812.
  • Comet of Doom: The great comet of 1811-12 is seen as a harbinger of death and destruction. Napoleon invades soon after.
  • Dances and Balls: A spectacular grand ball, one of the highlights of Part II, is held on New Year's Eve 1809. Natasha and Andrei have a dance and fall in love.
  • Death by Childbirth: Andrei's wife Lise dies giving birth to their son Nikolai, just as he's getting back from Austerlitz.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Almost all of the film is in color, but for the scene where Natasha's teenaged brother Petya is shot from his horse and killed while in a cavalry charge against the French, the scene switches to black and white.
  • Desert Skull: It isn't a desert, or a skull for that matter. But the ribcages of horses, seen as the bedraggled remnants of the French army retreat from Moscow, underline the desperate situation that Napoleon's army is in.
  • Divided for Adaptation: Released in four separate installments over a year and a half, 1966-67.
  • Double Don't Know: When Pierre asks Natasha if she was really in love with "that vile man" (Kuragin), an agitated Natasha responds "I don't know! I don't know!"
  • Dutch Angle: Seen in moments of emotional distress. In Part I the camera tilts and sways repeatedly during Pierre's duel with Dolokhov. In Part III the camera is tilting around again when the French are marching through a burning village. In Part IV this is used multiple times during the chaotic sack and burning of Moscow.
  • Epic Movie: Cripes. Filming lasted for four years. Bondarchuk had 12,000 extras for the battle scenes. The original Russian version was originally released in four parts in 1966 and 1967. The four parts are:
    • Part I: Andrei Bolkonsky (released March 1966)
    • Part II: Natasha Rostova (July 1966)
    • Part III: 1812 (July 1967)
    • Part IV: Pierre Bezhukov (November 1967)
  • Epic Tracking Shot:
    • Natasha's entrance into her first grand ball is accompanied with a shot of a little over 2 1/2 minutes in which the camera swoops into, out of, and around the main ballroom. This appears to have been done with trickery, as people pass in front of the camera multiple times in ways that could hide a cut.
    • A jaw-dropping tracking shot comes near the end of Part III, during the battle of Borodino. The camera glides without a cut through chaos and havoc, as shells explode, buildings burn, men fight to the death, and cavalry squadrons go galloping past.
  • The Film of the Book: Made to be even more faithful than the American version, which is why it's so long—the novel is quite the Doorstopper.
  • Fish out of Water: Pierre, dressed in a crisp, clean tan suit with top hat, looks ridiculous in the middle of all the grimy Russian soldiers digging in at Borodino as the French approach. They heckle him, with one soldier saying of the suit, "It's to scare the French." It's even more ridiculous the next day, when the battle begins and Pierre is still wandering around aimlessly, his crisp tan suit now spattered with mud, as Russian soldiers are getting shot and blown up all around him.
  • Gilligan Cut: Andrei, who disapproves of Kuragin's parties with their drinking and debauchery, tells Pierre to swear on his life that he won't go to those parties any more. Cut to Kuragin's party, where guests are swilling booze and smashing windows, while Pierre walks around drunk.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Helene insists that Pierre take off his glasses before they kiss for the first time.
  • Glasses Pull:
    • Pierre as he watches his father Count Bezhukov die.
    • The French officer grilling Pierre in Part IV (Pierre is suspected of being a spy) seems to think that pulling his glasses off will get him a better look at Pierre.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Bondarchuk did not stint in his recreation of early 19th century Russian aristocratic life.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Field Marshal Kutuzov, who explains to Andrei his 1812 strategy of trading space for time until the French start running out of food. (It worked.)
    • Napoleon pops near the end of Part III and is seen periodically throughout Part IV. His last appearance has him abandoning his army and taking a fast coach back home, as happened in real life.
    • Tsar Alexander I is glimpsed from a distance at several points in Parts I-III, such as when he and Napoleon meet to sign the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807.
  • Immediate Sequel: Part III begins exactly where Part II left off, with the same scene in fact; Napoleon's horde crossing the river into Russia in June 1812.
  • Impairment Shot:
    • A POV shot in Part I from the perspective of dying Count Kyrill has the picture blurring in and out.
    • Helene's face goes blurry after Pierre takes off his glasses to kiss her.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Andrei and another Russian officer wonder about the lack of news from the Austrians, but tell themselves that if Mack and the Austrians have been routed, surely they'd know by now. Cue the arrival in the room of a disheveled Austrian officer who turns out to be General Mack, his army having been destroyed by Napoleon before the Russians could link up.
  • Inner Monologue: Used many times, like in the long sequence where Andrei sees a gnarled old oak tree in the woods and thinks the tree is like him, that life holds no pleasure for him and the only thing in his future is death. Later, after he falls in love with Natasha, he rides by the oak tree again and notices (in Inner Monologue) that it's bloomed.
  • Jitter Cam: Combined with P.O.V. Cam from Prince Kuragin's perspective at Austerlitz, when he is part of a cavalry charge against the Russians. The Jitter Cam ends with the camera spinning away from the horse and hitting the ground, as Kuragin is unhorsed by a cavalry shell.
  • Killed Offscreen: Early in Part IV the narrator mentions offhandedly the "sudden death" of Pierre's faithless wife Helene.
  • Male Gaze: An uncomfortable scene where Pierre is sitting with Helene has the camera dip down from her face to her cleavage, as shown off in a low-cut dress.
  • Match Cut:
    • A scene with fires dotting the hills at the Russian camp after Austerlitz, cuts to a shot of candle flames at a fancy dinner party back in St. Petersburg.
    • Between an angry Pierre turning away from Anatol, and Andrei turning back to Pierre as he returns Natasha's letters.
  • Moment of Silence: Pierre watches in horror as a teenaged boy is tied to a stake by French soldiers and shot, in a scene that plays in silence.
  • Narrator: Occasionally used to introduce characters or provide exposition, like in the early going when a rich guy is strolling around in a forest and the narrator explains that it's Prince Bolkonsky, who was banished to the country for pissing off Tsar Paul I.
  • No Romantic Resolution: Interestingly, while Natasha and Pierre do indeed marry towards the end of Tolstoy's novel, they don't in this film, and in fact there's no confirmation that they will even be a couple. In the movie, Pierre returns to Moscow after escaping from French captivity, and finds the Rostovs. Natasha stands up to greet him. He smiles at her...and that is it, as the last moments show Russian armies moving west against Napoleon, followed by the narrator musing about how good people must group together to fight evil, before the film ends.
  • The Noun and the Noun: War and Peace.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: While most of the score was composed especially for the film by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, several scenes set at the Bolkonsky estate are scored to the finale of Joseph Haydn's Farewell symphony (specifically, the part where the musicians leave the stage a few at a time).
  • Scare Chord: Heard in Part I when General Mack shows up unexpectedly at the Russian HQ. This turns out to be very bad news—Mack's Austrian army has been captured at the battle of Ulm, which means the Russians are screwed.
  • Snow Means Death: It certainly does for the French near the end of the film, as they flee Russia at the end of 1812 after winter has set in. Soldiers stagger through blizzards, as the road west is lined with the frozen bodies of men and horses.
  • Split Screen: Used by Bondarchuk many times.
    • Used in Part I for an Imagine Spot in which Andrei Bolkonsky imagines himself winning glory in battle and being hailed by the troops.
    • Part II kicks off with a three-way split screen that shows Napoleon and Alexander I meeting in a barge in the Neman River to sign the 1807 Treaty of Tilsit, while their armies watch from each bank.
    • Another split screen for the Part II scene in which Andrei and Natasha are both proclaiming their love for each other after the ball.
    • A split screen in Part II when Anatol is explaining his plan to run away with Natasha while she sleeps on the other side of the screen.
    • Part IV has a split screen shot showing the many horrors Pierre sees as Moscow burns—a hanged man, a man being shot by firing squad, statues being pulled down, churches burning, French soldiers looting a wine cellar.
  • Staggered Zoom: For the introduction of Natasha (Ludmila Savelyeva), as she throws open a door to meet the party guests.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Dramatic thunder and lightning at the beginning of Part III, as Napoleon's troops cross the Niemen and begin the invasion of Russia.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: Pierre fights a duel against Dolokhov after finding out about Dolokhov's affair with his wife, although they use the more traditional "fire from behind the barrier" code of pistol duels. Pierre's shot hits Dolokhov; his wound is not too serious, but it's bad enough that Dolokhov's shot misses Pierre completely.
  • War Is Hell: Whether it's the Battles of Schöngrabern and Austerlitz in Part I, the Battle of Borodino in Part III, or the burning of Moscow and the French retreat across the frigid Russian countryside in Part IV, we are treated to plenty of sequences that emphasise just how awful war is for the soldiers and civilians caught up in it. Narration underscoring that an army on the march sees every house as an ambush spot and every local as a possible spy, Russian officers lamenting how desperately underequipped and underfed their men are, battlefields with knee-deep mud bogging down artillery and cavalry advances, soldiers wearing blood-soaked bandages over missing eyes, arms, or legs, whole neighbourhoods consumed by fire and families losing each other in the chaos, prisoners of war executed by firing squad without trial, French soldiers freezing and/or starving as Napoleon is forced to retreat back to Paris... it all makes the "Peace" in "War and Peace" that much sweeter by comparison.

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