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9/10
Visually inventive by any standards; inventive narrative by Soviet standards
KFL20 October 2002
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".
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10/10
a poetic post-Stalinist Russian artistic awakening
cranesareflying28 April 2002
Warning: 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."
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10/10
truly magnificent
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, from 1941-'45.

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.
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10/10
Very very very good.
GreySphinx24 April 2004
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.
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10/10
Moscow Believes in Love
Galina14 February 2007
Warning: 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.
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10/10
Masterpiece from Russia.
vdg17 March 2004
I would like to tell you just a few things before considering seeing this movie. 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.

Enjoy it.
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7/10
Exquisite romantic tale of bittersweet war romance...
Neil Doyle16 May 2007
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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9/10
Superb film!
ian9598 July 2003
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.
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8/10
Remarkable for its time
William J. Fickling30 November 2002
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.
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9/10
Impressive and Heartbreaking Romance in Times of War
Claudio Carvalho31 January 2006
In Moscow, the young couple Veronika (T. Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov) are in deep love for each other. With the World War II, Boris volunteers to join the army and is sent to the front on the day before Veronika's birthday, and they do not have the chance to say goodbye to each other. While waiting for news from Boris, Veronika is raped by Boris' cousin Mark (A. Shvorin) and they marry each other. However, Veronika does not forget Boris, and keeps waiting for him.

"Letyat zhuravli" is an impressive and heartbreaking romance in times of war. The direction is excellent and uses ellipses along the story, inclusive in the capital scene when Veronika is raped by Mark. The camera-work is amazing, with sophisticated planes and angles, and long traveling. The scenes of Veronika in the middle of the tanks, or in the train station with many figurants are awesome. The magnificent cinematography is highlighted by the restored image of the DVD. T. Samojlova has an extremely beautiful face, and a touching and sensitive performance. The speech in the last scene makes another great example of an anti-war movie. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "Quando Voam as Cegonhas" ("When Fly the Stork")
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8/10
This is what lovers of movie-history dream of. Be blown away by the advanced quality and content!
Felonious-Punk7 September 2010
I had seen director Kalatozov's "I am Cuba" before I saw this movie. I loved the camera work in "I am Cuba", but I felt that the story was too rigid, too much of a propaganda piece, too much of an advertisement for my taste. The characters weren't real enough, not fully developed. It felt as if I were watching types of people rather than actual people. In "The Cranes are Flying", which Kalatozov made prior to "I am Cuba", I didn't find the same problem. The story is thoroughly engaging, and I felt a whole range of emotions. The lead character, specifically is so real, I think she will haunt my dreams. She is played by Tatyana Samojlova who deserves special acclaim. She is dazzling. Her sweet charm reminded me of Audrey Hepburn, and yet Samojlova's acting seems to have a broader range. Hers is more realistic in a way that feels ahead of its time in 1957. Her wild despair is in a league with the best emoter actresses, such as Natalie Wood, Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche.

I must mention, also, that the cinematography is so crisp, it seems to be 4 decades ahead of its time. As far as composition and movement of the camera, I'd say it has strains of several styles, including German Expressionism of the 20's and 30's, and the stormy noir melodramas of the '40s, like "Out of the Past" (1947).

This is a romantic, dramatic movie that looks long and hard at the repercussions of war, and yes, it does have a message and it certainly hammers it home, but still I think it stays more clearly in the realm of universal themes, rather than falling into the propagandist ditch.

In summary, I don't think I have ever seen better acting, better camera work, better editing, or better direction in any movie made previous to it. There were some scenes made with such planning and precision that I had to press "PAUSE" just to catch my breath. Lovers of movie history, enjoy!
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10/10
Powerful story of the effect of war.
ihrtfilms2 September 2010
Sometimes you see a film and it knocks you for six. Sometimes those films are unknown to most people. The Cranes Are Flying is one of those films. Made in Soviet Russia in 1957, the films starts with the romance of Veronika and Boris, a romance that is rudely interrupted when he volunteers to go to the front during WWII. After the lose of her own family, Boris' family invite her to live with them, only for his brother who found exemption from fighting 'forcing' her into marriage. The family are forced to move to Siberia to escape the onslaught of the Germans and it is here Veronika learns the fate of her real love.

The film's main plot, the love story, is tragic, but the film as a whole is as tragic in it's depiction of war and the immense effect it has on people. Through fine performances the cast bring another episode of war to life, with drama, joy, despair and hope. Director Mikhail Kalatozov achieves something else, a masterpiece of film making. The film contains some of the most remarkable camera work you'll likely to see in a pre-CGI film world. One of the early scenes where Boris runs up flights of stairs as the camera pans and follows in one take is a hint of things to come. That scene is mirrored when Veronika returns to her family apartment to find it bombed and runs up the same stairwell, that hangs among the ruins and fire. There are fine tracking shots, such as where Veronica runs along the dispatch area or when she runs along the train track. Another stand out scene is where Veronica is 'trapped' by the brother during an air raid, the noise loud, the camera angles obscure, the lighting jarred and ominous, it's a powerful moment, among many throughout the film.

The audience learns the fate of Boris way before Veronica, who tries to hang onto hope that he will return. Her love grows ever more when she discovers the note he left in the toy squirrel. The powerful end scenes, when the truth is revealed are stunningly effective, full of emotion and the horror of what war can create in people.

War films are often too busy concentrating on the battles itself, but occasionally a film will explore the real battle, the one that humanity has to endure on a personal level.

More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
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9/10
Soviet Masterpiece
michaelm-66 July 2000
Warning: Spoilers
A true masterpiece of the Soviet cinematography. It's a shame for the Soviet Union that Samojlova was never given an opportunity to play in the Western movies -- but then again, she would probably never find herself there. In "Letyat Zhuravli", she is unforgettable. This was one of the few movies where I was crying...

In addition to Samojlova, Batalov and Merkurjev, who are top rate, it was a brilliant work of the director and the operator which made this movie an all-time classics world-wide. Just remember the scenes of piano music and proposal under the heavy German bombardment, or the death of Boris with a swirling sky above his head and his last visions appeared blurred in those skies. The very simple means -- but the great technique added to the emotional weight... Mind you, 20 years before "The Star Wars", 41 years before "Titanic", and with a Soviet budget.
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8/10
THE CRANES ARE FLYING (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957) ***1/2
MARIO GAUCI7 October 2006
I had long wanted to watch this romantic drama (with a WWII setting) and, now that I have, all I can say is that it's a veritable masterpiece of Russian cinema!

Soviet films are known for their overzealous propagandist approach but, thankfully, this one's free of such emphasis - with the interest firmly on the central tragic romance between a promising artist and a vivacious girl, doomed by the outbreak of war for which he gladly volunteers but from which he'll never return. The girl (a remarkable performance from Tatyana Samojlova) is also loved by the young man's cousin and, when she doesn't receive word from her boyfriend, gives in to the latter and marries him. He, however, is an aspiring concert pianist bitter about the war having curtailed his chances for success and, knowing too that the girl's still devoted to the soldier, begins to neglect her. Finally, word reaches the girl of her loved one's death but, by the end of the film, she has learnt to accept this as a sacrifice to their native country and is content to live with her memories of him.

The film features some truly amazing camera-work which makes extremely judicious use of the screen space and, by frequently adopting tracking, tilted and high or low angle shots, renders great power to the unfolding emotional drama. Individual sequences are equally impressive - two in particular: the stunning scene, frenetically edited and sped-up to boot, in which the girl saves an abandoned boy from being trampled by a truck; and the young man's premature demise in an unfortunate incident at the front, undoubtedly one of the best of its kind I've ever watched (with the sun moving away from him, symbolizing the life that's seeping out of his body, as he imagines the wedding day he'll never have!). Also notable, however, is the scene where the girl goes to look for her parents in her home that's been hopelessly devastated during an air raid; as is her final violent capitulation to the concert pianist - which she tries to resist by repeatedly slapping him in the face - taking place during a later air raid and making particularly effective use of a set of billowing curtains!

Disappointingly, the R1 DVD of this outstanding film is a bare-bones affair (the RusCiCo edition features a few supplements but, being an export, tends to be heavily overpriced and hard to track down to boot!); Criterion released it in conjunction with another war-themed Russian classic, BALLAD OF A SOLDIER (1959) - which my pal at the local DVD rental outlet has told me is forthcoming...

The only other film I've watched from this director is the Arctic epic THE RED TENT (1969; albeit via the much-shorter U.S.-release version!), a star-studded international production based on true events; given the unmistakable artistic quality of THE CRANES ARE FLYING, I regret missing out now on his famous documentary I AM CUBA (1964) a number of times when I was in Hollywood late last year: apart from receiving a one-week theatrical run, it was shown more than once on TV accompanied by a feature-length "Making Of"!!
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10/10
Cinematography
Kyle Salmons23 July 2014
Most definitely one of the best works of cinematography I have seen. Sergei Urusevsky is truly a cinematic genius. Many of the scenes in this film are shot with a hand-held camera, and the shots are incredible. Urusevsky conveyed the feelings and emotions of the characters through the camera, which is difficult for a lot of filmmakers to do. Not only is this a great film in terms of technique, but it is also a very beautiful story as well. The actors are great, the story is great, and just the film itself is great. I highly recommend this film to anyone; whether you are wanting to analyze it or just enjoy it. It is very beautiful and moving film; as well as a piece of cinematic art.
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9/10
The Wages of War
Hitchcoc8 February 2013
This film really grew on me. It tells the story of a young man who goes off to war, filled with desire to become a hero and defend mother Russia. He leaves behind a young woman who adores him but is never able to tell him. What happens here is what happens so often. She gives up hope of ever seeing him and ends up married to a man who has had designs on her and whom she actually hates.. What's worse, he rapes her in a building that is being bombed by German aircraft. The "glory" of war is shown for what it is: the human tendency to kill its children while the decision makers sit an pontificate. This is so poignant, so human, and it gives us no winners. By the way, the camera is the star of this movie. The battle scenes take us plodding through the mud, facing death at every turn. It carries us through the masses as they see their heroes off to battle. It shows us graphically the obstructions thrown up by war as they diminish the human condition.
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9/10
I am always waiting … The Cranes are Flying
jaredmobarak16 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Director Mikhail Kalatozov's film The Cranes are Flying (Letyat zhuravli) is a glorious piece of cinema. From the screenplay by Viktor Rozov, based on his own play, Kalatozov shows us a vision of the heroism of war and the suffering by those left at home. Inundated with countless war movies showing us the frontlines and the carnage, the topic itself becomes tedious and avoidable. However, this Russian gem shows how the tale of hardship can be told in a different way; by telling us, straight from a soldier's mouth how war is hated by all, that they hope those who died did so for a cause that will allow for peace and the end of fighting, we see a new vision of WWII. We have young men volunteering to wage war for peace, to keep their families and loved ones safe at home rather than draftees fighting a battle they don't believe in. With so much hatred towards our current situation in the Middle East, and how people are dying for no reason, against their will, it's nice to see a film that shows just how selfless and heroic these soldiers are, as well as those awaiting their return.

Communist Russia shows how involved all were in the war. While Boris may have volunteered to go to the frontlines, his father is head doctor of a hospital aiding in the mending of soldiers injured and his sister is helping him there as well as his girl Veronika, doing all she can to keep her mind off the fact that no letter has arrived from her love. An entire city comes out to send the boys off in celebration. Even the factory that Boris and his friend Stepan work for send representatives over with gifts of gratitude. Whether this is all a glorified look into Russia at the outset of WWII or not, I don't know. There are no protests or badmouthing of these boys risking their lives for a country, it is all praise and thanks. Some in America could learn a lesson from this because whether you agree with the war at hand or not, protesting and wreaking havoc in its name only sullies what these men and women are sacrificing each and everyday.

The acting is top-notch throughout, but some deserve singling out. I really enjoyed Antonina Bogdanova in a small role as Boris' grandmother. She is the one family member he can trust and her sadness at his leaving is very evident on her face and through her body language. Vasili Merkuryev, as the patriarch Fyodor Ivanovich, brings what is perhaps the best performance. As spoken at the end, about fathers needing to choke back hidden tears, Merkuryev epitomizes those sentiments. He puts on a tough exterior, especially cracking jokes and riding his son hard when he finds out about his volunteering just hours before he must leave. But when Boris exits to go to the assembly station we see the true pain of the man, seated in sorrow at the table. He loves his son dearly and although he may not be able to show it to him, his actions throughout the film express it to the audience. Aleksey Batalov is effective as Boris, a happy-go-lucky young man, and idealist, doing what he believes is right, and Aleksandr Shvorin is good as the villainous Mark, staying home due to his talented piano skills, or maybe just to steal his cousin's love. That love, played by Tatyana Samojlova, really draws the audience in to her grief, dejection, and slim glimmer of hope. The true star of the film, she must go through many emotions on a journey where she does lose her way, needing to steer back on course, hoping that she did so soon enough for Boris' return.

Besides the realism to the story, as well as being unafraid to use tragedy to get the theme across, I also loved the visual style of the film. Sergei Urusevsky's cinematography is amazing, especially when considering the movie was shot in fullscreen. It is one thing to create stunning compositions in a widescreen panorama; it is completely different to do so in a square frame. Right from the beginning we get a beautiful static shot of a winding walkway along water, a bridge in the background at the top, as our two lovers skip their way up the screen and into the distance. There are multiple instances of the camera being behind barriers yet still allowing for the action to be seen, creating unique spatial depth and interest at all times. Sharp angles are utilized, as well as careful blocking to allow for overhead shots and exaggerated juxtapositions of characters in frame together.

The real feats, however, are those instances of the long shot. Used well towards the end to follow Veronika through the mass of returning soldiers, it is magnificent earlier on as she roams through those saying goodbye to their loved ones while she searches for Boris, her own farewell needing to be said. The planning for this shot must have been extensive because while she weaves in and out of people, the camera focuses on couples kisses, people yelling to one another, and more, all purposely in frame at specific moments while the camera moves through. Everyone needed to hit his mark precisely and it leads to a brilliant piece of cinema. It's just one part of an overall masterpiece of tone and style; The Cranes are Flying shows how successful placement and mise en scène can be in showing the audience what it needs in as simple a way as possible. Composition and professionalism from the actors and crew can work wonders, adding something that huge setpieces and special effects can never do.
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9/10
Realistic, humanistic portrayal of the civilian effects of the Great Patriotic War
ackstasis26 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The aftermath of World War Two almost resulted in the death of Soviet cinema. In the early years of the 1950s, film production came close to a complete standstill {a mere nine feature-films were released in 1951}, and the work of all filmmakers was closely monitored, and often censored, by the government. Following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, filmmakers were given greater artistic freedom with their pictures, though many remained reluctant to challenge the heroic, optimistic and propagandistic stance towards warfare that had been prevalent in previous years. It wasn't until 1957 that director Mikhail Kalatozov and writer Viktor Rozov became bold enough to produce what is widely-considered the first post-Stalin Soviet masterpiece, 'Letyat zhuravli / The Cranes are Flying,' one of the finest depictions of war I've seen from any country or time period. Not only was the film lauded for its artistic brilliance in the Soviet Union, but international recognition was soon to follow, and Kalatozov's film was honoured with the Palm d'Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival.

'The Cranes are Flying' is both an invigorating visual feast and an audacious, humanistic portrayal of war. Unlike many Soviet war-themed films of the time, it was less constrained by the archetypal figure of the traditional war-time hero, and more concerned with the futility, brutality and, indeed, the inevitability of conflict. Love, as a cinematic concept, is too-often idealised as a notion that somehow conquers all and endures endless hardship, and yet the reality is substantially less romantic. In the film, two lovers, Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov), separated by the advent of the WWII {widely known in the Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945}, pledge to marry after the war, but tragedy denies the couple their wish. Driven to betrayal by the unending torment and uncertainty of waiting, Veronika agrees to wed Boris' cousin, Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin), a handsome but unworthy youth. The film may conclude with the proud victory of the Soviets, and a patriotic flag-waving parade, but the optimism of this sequence is overwhelmingly eclipsed by the bittersweet tragedy of our young female protagonist, who wanders soullessly through the celebrating crowds.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of 'The Cranes are Flying' is Sergei Urusevsky's inspired and dynamic hand-held cinematography, which realistically and dizzily captures the chaos and confusion of war, not necessarily in the hail of gunfire and the cries of dying comrades {in fact, only one of the film's sequences joins Boris on the Eastern Front}, but from the perspective of the family and friends who are left behind. In one particularly impressive, oft-cited long shot, the camera follows Veronika as she frantically searches for Boris in a crowd of departing recruits and their families. The hand-held camera smoothly follows the girl off a bus, jostles through the crowd alongside her - capturing momentary snippets of loved ones saying farewell to their sons and husbands - before unexpectedly craning above the crowd as Veronika disappears into the dust of a passing squadron of army tanks, a breathtaking movement that offers scope and urgency to the dramatic episode. Urusevsky first acquired his filming experience as a military cameraman during the war, and obviously fell in love with the storytelling possibilities of hand-held photography: "The camera," he once declared, "can express what the actor is unable to portray: his inner sensations. The cameraman must act with the actors."
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10/10
five thumbs up! (your fingers don't work so good after a war...)
johne011227 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Unlike the many who have posted here, I'm not movie literate. I stumbled across this movie by accident (channel surfing), and couldn't surf away. This is a truly incredible movie, worthy of all the praise the critics and those on this site have heaped on it. The actors are terrific. Tatiana is beautiful and innocent. Her fiancé Boris is sweet and patriotic. You couldn't help but feel Boris' father's exasperation and sorrow as he upbraids his son for such foolishness as volunteering to serve in the great war.

Others have summarized the movie so well, so I'll just mention a couple of scenes that moved me the most. When Boris' brother reveals to his family that he has broken trust with his brother and "has to marry" Tatiana, Tatiana's twisted mouth shows her revulsion at this betrayal (even though her part in the unfaithfulness might have been through rape). You fear that the rest of the movie might right this wrong by visiting just destruction on Tatiana and the brother, or worse, show Tatiana destroyed by an immoral descent into cigarette smoking decadence. Since this isn't "French existential cinema", the latter doesn't happen. Thankfully!

Another scene that tears at your heart is when the unnamed "musician" soldier who was saved by Boris returns to tell Boris' father of the death of his son. He unwittingly breaks the news to Tatiana. I can't describe the sorrow of this scene... Still,Tatiana finds finds a straw to grab and hope that Boris will yet come home. The musician actually never saw Boris buried, after all.

I won't mention more scenes, but do want to observe that the touches of Soviet political correctness didn't detract at all from the film. Boris' brother is revealed as the piano playing anti-soviet slacker that someone who steals his brother's wife-to-be would have to be. No doubt he gets at least a "tenner" at the conclusion of the film! The ending, when Tatiana finally learns for certain that Boris is dead, still manages to end with cheerfully and full of hope for the future. You don't even want to imagine the tears and catharsis that must have swept through the theater when survivors of that war, with their own losses in mind, first saw this movie.

Incredible. Go see it.
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10/10
Devastatingly romantic.
manxman-115 October 2002
Warning: Spoilers
This movie won a special award at Cannes for its acting and it's not difficult to see why. (A few spoilers - but for the ending, you'll have to watch the movie!) A simple story - in Moscow on the eve of war between Russia and Germany in WW II Veronika (Tatiana Samoilova) is in love with Boris (Aleksei Batalov) but they have a spat when she learns that he has enlisted in the army. Boris leaves for the front before Veronika can tell him she loves him. Boris is shot but his ultimate fate remains unknown to Veronika or his family. Mark, Boris' cousin, rapes Veronika who feels obligated to marry him. Degraded and demeaned by the cowardly Mark, Veronika clings to the hope that someday Boris will return. Superb camera-work and wonderful set pieces by director Kalatozov. (For anyone interested in film technique another movie by Kalatozov, I AM CUBA, has at least two superb set pieces - one of them a long tracking shot that begins with a funeral procession through the streets of Havana, rises two stories to a cigar factory, tracks though the window and follows the procession down a long, long avenue - all without a cut.) Superb acting, particularly by Samoilova and Vasili Merkuryev (as Boris' uncle) that is made all the more poignant by sheer understatement. A devastatingly romantic movie with a heart-stopping performance by Samoilova. (This movie is frequently linked with the other Russian classic Ballad Of A Soldier.)
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8/10
Review of The Cranes are Flying for Russian Film Class
dldriver8 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The Cranes are Flying is a war drama that portrays the effects of World War II in Russia during that time period. The movie puts an interesting light on how war affected not only the soldiers fighting, but those left behind. The way in which the movie is shot is excellent: the use of hand-held camera makes the movie more realistic. It literally follows the characters through the movie. The expert use of symbolism in this film also contributes to the overall message. One of the most important symbols used in this film is rotation: the rotation in the film implies a sort of image in how things spiral down in life. The film also does a good job of developing characters. The protagonist of the film, Veronika, is representative of the nation as a whole. She represents the guilt brought on by being the survivor in war as well as the hope associated with new beginnings. The entirety of the film is mostly heartbreaking; however, the message at the end of the film is a hopeful one. The Cranes are Flying gives light to the harsh realities of war and its effects on a nation. Overall, the movie is very well done.
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7/10
Lovely, but hardly profound.(possible spoiler)
alice liddell7 February 2000
Warning: Spoilers
It's not difficult, after watching this film, to see why post-silent Soviet cinema is held in such little critical esteem. Don't get me wrong. THE CRANES ARE FLYING is, for the first half at least, supremely entertaining, boasting a lightness of touch completely unexpected from its country of origin; a fresh, brisk, spacious technique that eventually irritates as much as it initially charms; two stunning subjective set-pieces; and a romantic verve that flirts with, but never quite topples into, Lelouch territory. It's just that , in its subsuming of vast social, national and world events to a love affair, it is essentially no different from a conventional Hollywood movie.

Of course, in a Soviet Union that emphasised the state above all else, and in an era (World War Two) that suppressed individualism and liberty to uphold murderous symbolism, this foregrounding of two appealing young lovers is a relief. And the thematic similarities - all consuming love rent apart by war - with two of the most wonderful of all films (SEVENTH HEAVEN, LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG) also adds to its potential loveability.

The story is simple enough. Boris, a young factory worker from a bright medical and artistic family, and Veronika, a student, conduct a breezy relationship at night, their only free time. Boris's cousin Mark, a composer, also has eyes on Veronika. When the Nazis invade Russia, Boris secretly volunteers, to the chagrin of his family and lover. He promises to write to Veronika, but never does, thinking maybe she hasn't bothered to see him off, or perhaps the mail is simply unreliable. Veronika's parents die during an air raid, and she moves in with Boris's family, helping out at the hospital where his father tends wounded soldiers.

Distressed by Boris's silence, Veronika is also assailed by the attentions of Mark, who has gained exemption from military duty by bribing a local official. She is eventually worn down, and marries him, to the disapproval of her adopted family. Boris, meanwhile, is killed in action. Veronika, disgusted with herself and an adulterous Mark, refuses to believe this, and awaits his return, fostering a young orphan bearing his name.

The title refers to the birds the couple see at the height of their love, symbolic perhaps of its transcendant, epiphanical power. But this is illusory - the cranes fly in a V formation, and this shape pervades the entire film, through the geometric shapes of buildings, interiors, exteriors, groupings of people, composition, camera angles, the heroine's name - or by editing in which feet walking southwest in one story are met by feet walking southeast in another.

This serves to fatally trap the lovers who have no control over their destinies, and also suggest the Stalinist power that is never, specifically, mentioned in the film. Although the pair seem to be free in space, whether literally in an unpeopled environment, or privileged in generous close-ups, they are always ironised, minimised, torn apart - by circumstances, families, by crowds (see the brilliant, if obvious, sequences where Veronika is engulfed by tanks, or the pair fail to meet in a huge crowd), or simply by the film's structure, which is constantly distancing, through paralellism, their closeness. Although at the beginning, the lightness and brightness of style suggest a beautiful romantic idyll, it is constantly being broken by strange edits or camera angles of distracting snatches of music.

What is most remarkable is how these blocks to romance are achieved by abstracting rather than emphasising historical forces. The whole film, but especially the war itself, is strangely unreal and dreamlike, we are never shown its harsh, brutal actuality, just its effects on the lovers. In fact, it is transformed into a majestic spectacle, devoid of nasty Germans.

On the home front, the air raids create delicious effects of light and shade, or ruins of almost Gothic decadence. In the bunker, the threat to the Soviet empire is less important than Boris's perceived indifference. The empty, oneiric Moscow spaces the lovers initially, than Veronika with her mother, walk though are less actual locations than emotional spaces.

When Mark tries to force himself on Veronika, the air raid is less a destructive reality than a symbolic release of sexual and emotional frustrations. This is a brilliant sequence, filmed with silent, Expressionistic terror, in which the screen seems to burst with hysteria and violence, all the more compelling for the earlier scenes' wistful gentleness.

It's not much different at the front either, where fights over girls' honour are more urgent than tactics, Nazis or despair. The movement of Boris and his wounded comrade into a final space is a further abstracting of the experience of war, its setting in a forest giving it a sexual dynamic; and Boris' final, pre-death flashback is an extraordinary mixture of dream-wish fulfillment and heightened anxiety, in which what is wished for becomes menacing and grotesque.

From this point on the film becomes a little less interesting, slightly more obvious. One more grasp for Expressionist overload - Veronika's attempted suicide and her rescuing the infant - is clumsily handled; and her sombre guilt casts a paralysing shadow over the whole film. The use of deep focus, at first ravishing, soon becomes wearing, devoid as it is of any of the moral force or meaning Welles brought to its use in CITIZEN KANE. After what seems a quietly sly critique of totalitarianism in favour of the individual is cruelly betrayed at the end, when individual suffering, as so often in Russian art, transmutes into symbolic (i.e. sexless, dehumanised) hope. A pity.
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9/10
Russian grapes of war
revival0528 April 2010
The Cranes Are Flying is a film just as mesmerizing as the title suggests. It's stark and poetic, emotional but existential, it's about human nature, human life, human circumstance. The story is a simple and often told one, but then again, the stories of life tend to be simple and often told. The heart of the film lies in the very beginning where the two young lovers Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov) stand in each other's arms and watch the cranes flying in the sky. They love each other. They don't know it yet, but they are about to be separated by war. This is the first and last moment of peace, harmony and love in their lives. The rest of their years are going to be filled with heartache, guilt, hardships, hunger, grief, death. The film ends on a hopeful and even joyous note. You have to see it to believe it.

This is the first point. Very simple. It's a wonderful film that you should see. Then there are the historical notes, and the technical qualities to marvel about. Based on a play by Viktor Rozov, who wrote the screenplay, the film was directed by Mikhail Kalatozov who was one of the first Soviet filmmakers to emerge and blossom after Stalin's death (he was his former head of production). He would make tremors with his 1964 pro-Castro documentary I Am Cuba, but The Cranes Are Flying won him the Palme D'Or in 1957. It's no wonder either, not only does the film prove amazing craftsmanship but it would also remind anyone of a more general European art film from the same time (the French New Wave easily comes into mind). At the same time, it seems to have managed to pass all of the demands from the Soviet Union. It doesn't come off as a patriotic spectacle of propaganda but, as I said, it does end hopefully, with the love for the people shining from within the people itself.

Tatyana Samojlova is the heroine of the film, and Kalatozov is occupied following her with the greatest of care. Much of the film is portrayed in silence, but it's not the kind of artistic silent quality you might expect. It's a quiet film, the absence of sound is naturalistic, as are the cranes in the sky and the feelings of Veronika as her childish romance dies out while she grows older in the war times. She loves Boris, lost in field. She marries a man she doesn't love. The film suggests feelings of guilt and shame. We're not sure, Samojlova is too human. There are breathtaking moments of film making in this film that, made in 1956, seems to predate most original methods of film making - and, I'd say, to this day it's not often you see sequences like the one where she is desperate, running along a train seemingly at the same speed, whilst the film itself seems to react at the sudden impact of speed and emotion. It's like the entire film looses control over itself, she almost outruns it herself, and you can't say what will happen the very next second or, once that second has passed, the second after that.

This is a film about human beings, the value of human life, of love and family and hope. But it's not entirely an anti-war film, as one might suppose. This is a film where the characters face their sadness and their emotional tragedies right up front and never tries to deny them or shun from them, or in any way prolong their suffering. There is a higher cause and life must be lived by the citizens of an entire country in hope, because if we loose hope the suffering will have been pointless.
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10/10
Where has the film been all my life?
green2u9 July 2007
Sick of the current cinema output, particularly American cinema, I've been making an effort to see the Oscar-winning foreign films. That's when I came across this gem. Slow to start, it picks up nicely once war is declared. Basically an old fashioned girl-waits-for-boy-to-return-from-war-story, the performances, the cinematography make this so very much more. Why Tatyana Samojlova as the young woman didn't become an international star after this is beyond me(though she has remained successful in her own country). You take the journey with her: young, defiant impetuous young girl, who, through the ravages of war becomes a very sober, somber woman who keeps a glimmer of hope (her final scene is devastating). We love her as much as the camera does. And the camera-work! Was this the pioneer in hand-held camera work? It truly adds an immediacy to the story. And the beauty of it (like when Tatyana's character is running up stairs and next to a slatted fence). I am humbled and grateful to see this film.
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