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The story told by The Cranes are Flying is not, admittedly, all that
original. Young lovers are separated by war; bad things happen to both.
We've seen it many times before.
Nonetheless, we haven't seen it filmed this well, with bold shots that take liberties to emphasize separation, or destruction, or hopelessness. All the more remarkable coming from the Soviet Union, and reason to conclude that Tarkovsky is not the last word in modern-era Soviet cinema.
I was reading Chekhov's "Three Sisters" the other day, and chanced upon what may be the meaning of the title of this film. In Act 2, Masha objects to the notion that we must live our lives without meaning or understanding:
"MASHA: Surely mankind must believe in something, or at least seek for the truth, otherwise life is just emptiness, emptiness. To live and not to know why the cranes are flying, why children are born, why there are stars in the sky. Either you must know why it is you live, or everything is trivial - mere pointless nonsense."
Likewise, Veronika has a hard time believing that the war, and her and others' sufferings, have been pointless. Better to assign a meaning, to live as if one's life is significant, and not to give in to despair. It is perhaps this thinking that prompts her to her final act in the film.
BTW as a minor correction to one other comment here--there may be a pattern of V's in the film, though I hadn't noticed them myself. But the first letter of Veronika's name is not a further instance of this; in the Cyrillic alphabet, her name begins with a letter which looks like an English "B".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
1956 was the 20th Congress of the Communist Party and the Soviet Premier
Krushchev made a speech denouncing Stalin and the Stalinist purges and the
gulag labor systems, revealing information that was previously forbidden,
publicly revealing horrible new truths, which opened the door for a new
Soviet Cinema led by Mikhail Kalatozov, once Stalin's head of film
production. This film features a Red Army that is NOT victorious, in fact
they are encircled, in a retreat mode, with many people dying, including the
hero, in a film set after 06-02-41, the German invasion of Russia when
Germany introduced the Barbarossa Plan, a blitzkrieg invasion intended to
bring about a quick victory and the ultimate enslavement of the Slavs, and
very nearly succeeded, actually getting within 20 miles of Moscow in what
was a Red Army wipe out, a devastation of human losses, 15 to 20 million
Russians died, or 20% of the entire population. Historically, this was a
moment of great trauma and suffering, a psychological shock to the Russian
people, but the Red Army held and prolonged the war 4 more years until they
were ultimately victorious.
During the war, Stalin used the war genre in films for obvious morale boosting, introducing female heroines who were ultra-patriotic and strong and idealistic, suggesting that if females could be so successful and patriotic, then Russia could expect at least as much from their soldiers. Stalin eliminated the mass hero of the proletariat and replaced it with an individual, bold leader who was successful at killing many of the enemy, an obvious reference to Stalin himself, who was always portrayed in film as a bold, wise and victorious leader. But Kalatozov changed this depiction, as THE CRANES ARE FLYING was made after Stalin's death, causing a political thaw and creating a worldwide sensation, winning the Cannes Film Festival Palm D'Or, as well as the Best Director and Best Actress (Tatyana Samoilova), reawakening the West to Soviet Cinema for the first time since Eisenstein's IVAN THE TERRIBLE in the 40's.
This film featured brilliant, breathtaking, and extremely mobile camera work from his extraordinary cinematographer Sergei Uresevsky, using spectacular crane and tracking shots, images of wartime, battlefields, Moscow and crowded streets that are extremely vivid and real. Another brilliant scene features the lead heroine, Veronica, who hasn't heard from her lover, Boris, in the 4 years at war, so he is presumed dead, but she continues to love him, expressed in a scene where she runs towards a bridge with a train following behind her, a moment when the viewer was wondering if she might throw herself in front of that train, instead she saves a 3 yr old boy named Boris who was about to be hit by a car. Another scene captures the death of Boris on the battlefield, who dies a senseless death, and his thoughts spin and whirl in a beautiful montage of trees, sky, leaves, all spinning in a kaleidoscope of his own thoughts and dreams, including an imaginary wedding with Veronica. This film features the famous line, "You can dream when the war is over." In the final sequence, when the war is over, the soldiers are returning in a mass scene on the streets, Veronica learns Boris died, all are happy and excited with the soldier's return, but Veronica is in despair, passing out flowers to soldiers and strangers on the street in an extreme gesture of generosity and selflessness revealing "cranes white and gray floating in the sky."
The film was released in 1957 in Russia, and according to some reviews, "the silence in the theater was profound, the wall between art and living life had fallen...and tears unlocked the doors."
If you're looking for a typical war movie, this is not it, so a note to all
the testosterone-pumped carnage-craving war buffs out there, don't bother.
Although the film is about Russian characters in WWII, don't expect to see
any Nazis, cannons, blood, gore, etc. It's not a film about people who cause
a war or who fight a war. It's a film about ordinary people who war happens
to and the choices they make in dealing with it.
Acting, cinematography, writing: all perfect 10s here. You'll certainly appreciate it if you're Russian like me, but even if not, you'll probably love it. If you speak no Russian, look for the RUSCICO (Russian Cinema Council) DVD version. It's got subtitles in about 14 different languages, but the English dubbing on this one I'd say is just as good. It's of course not as good as the original Russian track (some stuff is lost in translation), but just as good as the English subtitles. So go check it out, especially if you're studying film in any aspect.
The plot of this movie is set against the most terrible war in history of
mankind: the violent clash between Adolf Hitler's Germany and Soviet Russia,
With the western areas of their country thoroughly devastated, and 20 to 30 million Russian people killed, the vibes of this conflict can be felt in Russia up to the present day. Let alone back in 1957, when memories were still very fresh and painful.
This very black setting strongly contrasts with the fine and coherent style of 'Letjat zhuravli's' beautiful shots. Its simple story deals with human behaviour in times of war: bravery, love, patriotism, weakness, cowardice and corruption. All beautifully tied together by a toy-squirrel.
Add to this the truly magnificent acting, and it's easy to understand why this movie is so famous. Really, one of the very best ever made.
I would like to tell you just a few things before considering seeing this
If at one point or another you thought you've seen good camera work, be
prepared to be amazed by this movie. For the record, this movie was made in
1957 in Russia, but the technique used here is probably something that we've
seen much later in the western world...about 20 years later.
The level of emotions through the film varies quite a lot: happiness
-love-war- despair-joy, but in the end you remain with something quite
unique: the joy of seeing one masterpiece of filmmaking.
The young directors from our time should study more this kind of movies and
maybe they will be able to create something similar..even though I think
movies like this are very hard to come by...
If you've seen "I am Cuba" , then this movie would appeal to you very much,
but if not, be prepared for a unique experience.
The Russian directors have something in common: very small budgets, great
actors, and a joy of creating art...and yes, they are able to create more
masterpieces than all the western world together.
I am not a big fan of Russia, actually I hate everything that's communist,
but the film making in that part of the world, manages to create such
feelings that are hard to describe.
Love and war did happen on the other side of the iron curtain and by looking
losely at it love was just as strong as in the West and war was often more
poignant (should I say more realistic ?).
This film is as much about war and love as it is about the Soviet thaw of Mr K's era. It also reminds us than the best war movies were not necessarily made in the 1990's with rivers of hemoglobin and millions of USD spent on special effects and marketed actors.
This movie is a classic of Soviet cinema and a outstanding picture of one of the greatest human tragedies : war.
One of those films that I happened across through The Criterion Collection and as usual indulged as a change of pace. That turned out to be a great decision. I was almost mesmerised by the quality of the film, the story it told and the way it was told. The almost minimalist feel to the film with sparse dialogue and almost constant music just added a whole evocative level to the film. This really is a superb film to spend some time with and enjoy.
While watching this film recently, I constantly had to remind myself that it was made in 1957..........and in the USSR! That makes it all the more remarkable. Many of the cinematographic effects in the film seem cliched in 2002, but they were quite original in 1957. I first saw this film in 1963, when it was first released in the US, and I was struck by its originality then. Now just having seen it 40 years later, I have no reason to change my mind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It does not surprise me that this short (91 minutes) B/W movie that was
made 50 years ago in the Soviet Union during the short period called
"ottepel'" or "the thaw", has gained so much love and admiration among
the movie lovers over the world. It is sublime and beautifully filmed.
Some scenes feel like there were made way ahead of their time. Sergei
Urusevsky's camera work and creative discoveries were included in the
text books and widely imitated. The film tells the moving and timeless
story of love destroyed by merciless war but eternally alive in the
memory of a young woman. It is also the film about loyalty, memories,
ability to live on when it seems there is nothing to live for; it is
about forgiveness, and about hope. The film received (absolutely
deservingly) the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival and Tatiana
Samoilova was chosen as a recipient of a special award at Cannes for
playing Veronika, the young girl happily in love with the best man in
the world in the beginning of the movie. After separation with her
beloved who went to the front, the loss of her family in the bomb ride,
and the marriage to the man she never loved and only wished he never
existed, she turned to the shadow of herself, she became dead inside.
Her long journey to redemption, to finally accepting death of her
beloved and to learning how to live with it, is a fascinating and
heartbreaking one and it simply won't leave any viewer indifferent.
For me, the movie is very personal and dear because I was born and grew up in the city where its characters lived and were so happy in the beginning. I walked the same streets, squares, and bridges over the Moskva River. Every family in the former Soviet Union had lost at least one but often more than one family member to a combat or to the concentration camp or to the ghetto or to hunger, cold, and illnesses during WWII and my family is not exception. My mother and grandmother knew the horrors of war and never healing pain of losses not just from the movies and the books. "Cranes are Flying" speaks to me clearly and honestly and touches me very deeply. It is a masterpiece of movie making but it is a part of my life - my background, my memory, and my past.
Russian actress TATIANA SAMOILOVA reminds me so much of the young
Audrey Hepburn and the camera in THE CRANES ARE FLYING seems to love
her just as much. She is the focal point of a bittersweet war romance
against the background of World War II in Moscow.
The film is almost poetic in its gorgeous B&W cinematography which was the main reason for watching the film in the first place, since I had never heard of it and decided to give it a try when it aired on TCM.
It's a very moving love story about a girl's deep love for a man who is suddenly swept away by his role as a soldier drafted in wartime Russia. She's unable to forget the memory of her romantic attachment to him, but inexplicably marries someone else who has forced himself on her, a pianist who soon realizes that she still loves the soldier she hopes to hear from. Their marriage is a troubled one because she can't let go of her remembrance of a happier time with her soldier sweetheart.
By the end of the story, she accepts the idea that he's never going to return and is able to face reality and cope with the situation. There's a very poignant final scene at a train station where arriving soldiers are greeting their loved ones and the tearful girl shares the joy of the returning soldiers by giving some flowers from her bouquet to the joyous families.
The stylish and striking camera-work is what carries the film, as well as the honestly played story.
Tastefully done, but perhaps the English subtitles didn't tell the whole tale because some of the plot elements seemed a bit blurred to me as if they had been glossed over.
Summing up: Easy to see why it won awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Reminded me, in style, of another great Russian film, BALLAD OF A SOLDIER.
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