Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Cranes are Flying

Letyat zhuravli; drama, Russia, 1957; D: Mikhail Kalatozov, S: Tatyana Samoylova, Aleksey Balatov, Vasili Merkuryev, Aleksandr Shvorin, Svetlana Kharitonova, Konstantin Nikitin

Moscow at the eve of World War II. Veronika and Boris are a happy couple in love running through the streets. Boris has a hard and long job - he digs canals - so he can mostly see her in the morning. He thinks she is so cute he even gave her the nickname "Squirrel". One day Boris wakes up and discovers that the second World War has started so he voluntarily enlists into the army, leaving Veronika disappointed and alone. During the bombardment of the city, Veronika looses her apartment and her parents, so she decides to marry Mark, Boris' brother. The two of them move to Siberia, where the consequences of war are not that evident. Veronika becomes a nurse and saves a child from being run from a car. Eventually, she leaves Mark and finds out Boris died on the front.

Shining drama "The Cranes are Flying" is truly a jewel of non-American cinema and the director Mikhail Kalatozov proves to be an unknown talent whose name deserves to be worth of gold. A genius visual style dominates throughout the whole film that not even Jeunet or Kubrick would be ashamed of - the camera is presenting stylish close-ups of characters' faces that look larger than the screen, unusual camera angles, concave lens, ecstatic physiognomy of the actors that look like beings from another planet. One of the highlights is an amazing scene in which the camera is following Veronika through her burning apartment or the one where the dark room at night is being illuminated by explosions in the city while Veronika is hugging Mark, as well as the virtuoso sequence of Boris' hallucination composed of a view towards the sky, the trees, and intervened with Veronika's wedding. But, even leaving the visual style aside, the whole film is a surprisingly emotional, touching and energetic drama plastered with a surprisingly unpatriotic look at the World War and Russian mentality. Despite the somewhat tame ending, "The Cranes are Flying" is a masterpiece of a usual plot done in an unusual way that deservedly won the Golden Palm in Cannes.


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