Friday, 30 March 2007
THE CRANES ARE FLYING
The Cranes are Flying (1957) dir. Mikael Kalatosov
Starring: Tatyana Samojlova, Aleksey Batalov
No one can doubt the passion and grandeur of Russian cinema. The inspired and revered work of Eisenstein, Tarkovsky and Sokurov span the entire history of cinema. Mikael Kalatozov is a lesser-known name but a true artist who should be at the forefront of this list. And I’d argue “The Cranes are Flying”, winner of the Cannes Palme D’Or in 1957, as one of the greatest films of all time.
Boris and Veronika are blossoming lovebirds living in the bliss of new love, prancing around the streets with adolescent glee. But with the War around the corner the good times are not going to last. Kalatozov’s orchestration of this is genius. The scene of Boris and Veronika chasing each other up the staircase to her flat is marvelously dizzying - a bit of camera gymnastics that perfectly encapsulates their carefree whimsy.
When the declaration of war is announced, like most other young men, Boris wants to fight. Veronika remains in her love trance though, completely unaware of its effect on Boris. On the day Boris is due to leave, the couple miss their final rendez-vous and never see each other face-to-face. Upon hearing of the departure Veronika runs to the train station to stop him. Kalatozov is a master of emotional counter-point. The reveille of the farewell crowd counterpoints Veronika’s emotion-fueled chase to find her Boris. The scene is magnificent and a triumph of epic staging.
With Boris on the front lines, Veronika is forced to live out the war at home alone. But looking to make advances is Boris’ opportunistic cousin Mark. In an intense scene Mark attempts to rape Veronika while the city is in the midst of an air raid. Veronika gives in, and ends up marrying Mark, but her strength endures through the war and she refuses to let go of her love for Boris. She makes several attempts to discover his whereabouts and make contact with him. Boris dies on the front lines, but Veronika refuses to accept the reality. The ending of the war is not a cause of celebration for Veronika and the return home of the troops, like the departure scene, is again a painful counter-point to Veronika’s inner emotional turmoil.
No other country suffered more in WWII than Russia and that’s why Russian films about the War are so compelling. Going to war for a Russian soldier was the equivalent to a death sentence. Kalatozov uses unprecedented cinematic flair to put the emotions of the Russian people on screen. His deep focus and effortlessly fluid camerawork is a marvel and stands up to anything made today. The crowd scenes are staged with such authenticity it feels as if the movie being made is an afterthought to the events on screen.
“The Cranes are Flying” is one of a series of films from Kalatozov about passionate people trying to survive amongst harsh political conflict. Other films of his available to rent are “I am Cuba” and “The Red Tent”. A rare masterpiece, I’ve yet to see is “The Unsent Letter.” Hopefully this undiscovered treasure from the Russian master will also be brought back for the world to see. Enjoy.
Buy it here: The Cranes are Flying - Criterion Collection