The Cranes are Flying DVD
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Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov
Produced in 1957
Main Language - Russian with English subtitles
Aleksei Batalov, Tatiana Samoilova, Vassili Merkuriev
At the film's start, obliviously happy sweethearts are skipping along a dam wall at dawn with sunlight glinting on the water. Immediately apparent is the striking boldness of composition; soon we are looking down on the couple framed in a constructivist composition of shadows and angles which sensitizes us to the theme of people set against their surroundings and that continues throughout – against staircases, steel barricades, bombed-out buildings, tanks in the street.
The Cranes are Flying, winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1958, was made during 'The Kruschev Thaw' that followed his denunciation of Stalin's cult of personality. In cinema, this meant the freedom to move away from stereotypical Stalinist heroes and show a more nuanced view of events and, significantly, the suffering and sacrifice of ordinary people.
The story, of sweethearts' love ruined by war and fraternal betrayal, is largely melodramatic, but the performances lend it heartfelt credence. Vassili Merkuriev as Boris's father is both strong and vulnerable, weighing sacrifice with practical duty; most engaging of all though is Tatiana Samoilova as Veronika, who is especially winsome in the exuberant impulsiveness of her early scenes with Boris.
Excitingly, Kalatozov's direction is a direct link to an earlier, experimental age of Soviet filmmaking. We notice the extreme close-ups and a striking use of light and shadow, which is especially effective after Boris has tacked a blanket across a window. When he then tells Veronika that he has volunteered for the army, the shards of light that angle across Veronika's face actually look like they hurt. This visual strength is complemented by an inspired sound design that peaks during the air raid sequence in which wails of sirens spiral to cacophony with Mark's frenzied piano playing. In the silence that follows, the crunch of feet across a floor of broken glass becomes the squelch of soldier's boots through mud.
Sergei Urusevsky's camerawork is also striking, especially in how well it conveys the confusion of the throng in moving through crowds. Kalatozov and Urusevsky's artistry would of course culminate eight years later in Soy Cuba.
Graeme Hobbs on 18th December 2006
Author of 277 reviews
Winner of both the Palme d'Or and Best Actress Award at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, where it was one of the first postwar Soviet films to receive any exposure outside the USSR, The Cranes are Flying is a masterpiece of visual storytelling from Mikhail Kalatozov. It tells a tragic WWII story of two young lovers forced apart when Boris goes to fight at the Russian front against the Germans without time to say his farewells to Veronica. Whilst he faces the horrors of the front line, Veronica has her own battle at home.
Publisher: Artificial Eye
Length: 91 mins
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 5th December 2011
Cat No: ART563DVD
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