There Will Be a Show Tonight
I’ve never seen a film production of War and Peace. I do not know how this chapter and the next two chapters are handled. What I do know is that within these chapters Tolstoy provides us with the tripartite base elements of powerful filmmaking: dazzling visuals, aural delights, and a dramatic storyline featuring compelling, conflicted characters.
This is Natasha’s chapter so a filmmaker would do well to adopt a first-person point-of-view. I’d go with a 70s era Scorsese style here, following Natasha from the carriage outside in cold, wintry Moscow into the warm environs of the opera house filled with the lights and spectacle of Moscow society. A steadicam tracking shot would do the trick, mixed with a soundtrack capturing an impressionistic audial kaleidoscope of stimuli: horse hoof clapping, sloshing snow, footsteps, whispers, unintelligible conversation, the stirring of the orchestra. It’s clunky to include voice-over to express a character’s thoughts so to get at Natasha’s longing for Andrei I’d cut her walk into the opera house with her slow-motion observations of other couples talking happily together.
Once inside the opera house, after Natasha takes her seat in the Rostov’s box, I’d go full Tarkovsky: extended wide and medium shots of all the eyes turning to look at Natasha. All of Moscow society gathered together for the production, draped in their finest garments. Of course, it’d have to be lit in natural light like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. I’d pay particular attention to the newly affianced couple, Boris and Julie, contrasting their apparent happiness with Natasha’s long suffering separation from Andrei. In the background the overture plays. The closing sequence would be Natasha’s fetishizing gaze of Countess Bezukhova and the envy of her beauty and rich adornments.
Only after all this does Natasha focus her attention on the opera.
What the reader takes away from this chapter (and the viewer in my imaginary film adaptation) is how scatterbrained and unfocused Natasha is. She’s too busy thinking about Andrei or worrying about other people to enjoy the overture to the opera. This lack of mindfulness on her part is becoming a steady feature of her character. In the upcoming chapters it’s going to become the source of major problems.
Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what you have in hand with perfect and simple dignity and feeling of affection and freedom and justice; and to give yourself relief from all other thoughts.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations