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"What do you feel in your soul, deep in your soul?"
I must admit I was surprised when, following Russia's so-called "moral victory" at the Battle of Borodino, Part Four of Sergei Bondarchuk's 'War and Peace (1967)' opened proceedings with Field Marshal Kutuzov's reluctant retreat and Napolean's march onwards into Moscow. One suspects that the narrator's patriotic speech at the end of '1812' was perhaps a little premature, as Russia never seemed more vulnerable and defeated than the moment when French troops sidle casually into the nation's deserted capital. While it suffers from the unfocused and disjointed narrative also present in Part One, the final instalment of Bondarchuk's epic accomplishment is a brilliant and satisfying conclusion to a great story; as a proud nation is brought to its knees, the emotional register frequently strikes its maximum. 'War and Peace IV: Pierre Bezukhov (1967)' is arguably the picture's most important segment, when the story's primary characters place everything on the line for the future of their beloved Russia.
First and foremost, Part Four is a visual masterpiece, and Bondarchuk once again places his mark on the film with an assortment of dramatic episodes that are staggering in their intensity and attention-to-detail. During the burning of Moscow, as Pierre Bezukhov (Bondarchuk) attempts to rescue a young girl from a fiery inferno, the characters are almost completely obscured by the blustery splinters of ash that gust across the screen. I have no doubt that the filmmakers destroyed an entire village (which they probably built themselves) in order to achieve this remarkable set-piece, and the sheer intensity of the raging red flames often gives one the impression that Pierre has, with the arrival of the French, unexpectedly descended into the sweltering pits of Hell. Later, following the withdrawal of the invading army, Bondarchuk counterpoints these visions with another sequence, an awesome, seemingly-endless overhead tracking shot of the lines of weary soldiers stumbling through a bitter snowstorm.
Part Four of 'War and Peace' provides the ultimate test for many of the story's characters. Prince Andrei (Vyacheslav Tikhonov), who was wounded at the Battle of Borodino, must finally accept his impending death, and his final departure is preluded by an eerie dream sequence, in which Andrei wakes to observe a procession of indistinct faces marching past, the exodus of a lifetime of people, places and memories. Natasha Rostova (Lyudmila Savelyeva), now an emotionally-mature young woman, must accept her past mistakes and make peace with the man whose love she had betrayed. Pierre, who had previously expressed his complete disinterest in the war at hand, must choose to defend his beloved Fatherland, even if it may cost him his life. The picture's eventual conclusion, though certainly sad, strikes just the right note of bittersweet, and we feel as though we've just completed something very special. The overriding emotion is one of hope: wars will come and go, but life goes on, and life is the most important thing of all.
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