The Cranes are Flying – Letyat Zhuravli (1957)

It’s nice to watch a movie that is almost flawless like Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying, a masterpiece of Russian cinema. It’s touching and beautiful and for once free of any traces of propaganda as it was filmed after Stalin’s death.

I haven’t seen many movies depicting the Russian home front during WWII, so that was interesting as well.

The Cranes are Flying tells the love story of Boris (Aleksey Batalov)  and Veronica (Tatyana Samojlova), two young people who are very much in love and whose love is deeply affected by the outbreak of the war.

The only thing Veronica hopes when she hears about the war is that Boris will not be drafted, only he has other plans. He has already volunteered and his hasty departure doesn’t even permit to say good-bye.

Scenes like the one in which Veronica runs to the train station and hopes to see Boris one last time and say good-bye but is held back by the masses is quite tragic. She can see him but he doesn’t see her and no matter how much she fights to get his attention, it is utterly futile. We see many scenes like this in the movie, in which the camera stays for a long time on Veronica’s expressive face, which mirrors her tumultuous feelings and despair, and in which she seems to fight forces that are beyond her.

After Boris departure Veronica faces utter loneliness. Day in and out she waits for a letter from him but nothing arrives.  When she looses her parents in an air raid, she is completely alone. Fortunately Boris father is a kind man and asks her to live with them.

Boris cousin who was always very interested in Veronica tries to seduce her once Boris is gone and when she doesn’t give in, he finally rapes her. Desperate and lonely Veronica accepts to get married to him.

The family lives together in very quarters. The father and his eldest daughter are both doctors and constantly needed at the hospital. Even though she is now married, Veronica still waits for a letter from the front.

In the second half of the movie scenes from the front and the home front are interwoven.

The story is moving and sad but what is really compelling about this movie is the cinematography. The black and white shots are haunting. The way Veronica’s face is filmed is wonderful. Tatyana Samojlova really has a captivating and expressive face.

I was surprised about the characters as well. The father is one of the most positive father figures cinema has to offer. He is kind, gentle and understanding but at the same time determined and strong. He isn’t very patriotic and doesn’t think it is admirable to volunteer.

This is one of those movies that should not be missed and that will probably be even better when you watch it a second time.

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