A fair amount of The Cossacks sounds like this:
It was August. For days the sky had been cloudless, the sun scorched unbearably and from early morning the warm wind raised a whirl of hot sand from the sand-drifts and from the road, and bore it in the air through the reeds, the trees, and the village. The grass and the leaves on the trees were covered with dust, the roads and dried-up salt marshes were baked so hard that they rang when trodden on. (XXIX)
A new section begins with some establishing shots, some landscape. Kinda plain. Two sentences later some people enter the scene, generic ones, though, “the shouting of girls and boys bathing,” along with cattle and wild boars. Mountains, air, sun. Then activity, the grape harvest, and the sentence turn into close-ups:
Along the dusty road from the vineyards the creaking carts moved slowly, heaped up with black grapes. Clusters of them, crushed by the wheels, lay in the dirt. Boys and girls in smocks stained with grape-juice, with grapes in their hands and mouths, ran after their mothers.
The shot of the crushed grapes in the road is perhaps the first detail in the long paragraph that seems especially artful, that the more attentive writer thinks to include. Now these little bursts of sensory detail proliferate with descriptions of clothing or movement or odors (“the smell of the emptied skins filled the air” or animals, all circling around the grapes.
This is not really all that cinematic but has something in common with a montage. Or perhaps it is like watching a painter at work, putting down a base, working in some shapes, filling them in, adding lines, and finally getting out the finer brushes. Thank goodness we do not have to enjoy paintings in this fashion. Tolstoy’s page about the grape harvest is not that tedious, thankfully, although the method does require some patience. Well, it is only a page – a minute and a half of patience – what am I complaining about – and then the characters and story wander back in.
This is the distant narrator, the Flaubert-like invisible narrator. Objective is not a bad word, either, but of course the author is not really a camera or even a painter but is choosing every image from whatever possibilities his imagination can produce. He likely observed most of this himself during his own time in the Caucasus, but he observed a million things he did not put in the book. He makes himself visible as he goes along, just as he makes his setting and characters take shape by adding this piece, and now this one, and now this one.
The other mode of the novel is a clean limited third person, the other Flaubert-like narrator, but I am sure we are all tired of hearing about that. To my knowledge, Tolstoy owes no debt at all to Flaubert but was working out similar aesthetic ideas on his own. His powers of observation were so strong that they may not have seemed like ideas at all, just the obvious way to turn what he experienced and thought into fiction.