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.


16 thoughts on “The Cranes are Flying – Letyat Zhuravli (1957)

  1. the war movie buff says:

    I’ve been meaning to watch this. Hopefully I can get over my Amerocentrism and enjoy it. I am a little concerned about the long lingering shots of the woman. She better be beautiful.

  2. the war movie buff says:

    Thanks for the warning, but I’m going to watch it anyway just in case God is female. I can use the extra points.

  3. Curvy Kitty says:

    Thanks for the review, I’m always keen to see home front movies. We’ve got this at work so I’ll add it to my list

  4. the war movie buff says:

    Just finished it. Surprise, I liked it. The cinematography is amazing, although I would not to like to watch too many movies with this style. Samojlova is mesmerizing (I probably would have liked it a lot less if it starred a typical Russian woman). Several scenes are memorable: the soldiers leaving, the blown up apartment, the death scene, the attempted suicide, and the soldiers returning.

    Two things were confusing: 1. why did she marry Mark? was it because she lost her virginity to him? I did not get the impression he raped her, but that might explain it. I thought it was because she was pregnant, but she wasn’t. 2. When the soldier who was with him when Boris died comes to inform his father, why does he not respond to Veronica asking about Boris? Surely he knew Boris by name.

    • Yes, surprising but I’m glad to hear it. I loved the cinematography but to watch only this type of movie wouldn’t do for me either. The actress does look like a typical Russian woman, especially around the eyes. In Europe they are famed to be the most beautiful women, with the French and Italians. Maybe you only knew those you saw in sport events or the peasant type?
      She was raped, I looked up several books to make sure, it is just not explicitly shown. It’s as if she was broken and it wasn’t important anymore what became of her.
      The second answer I’m not sure, it was a bit confusing but he didn’t know her, so he didn’t want to tell.

  5. the war movie buff says:

    Okay, I’ll go with her being raped. (Thanks for checking on this.) Then explain why she would marry her rapist. That makes little sense even for a woman who is emotionally fragile.

    I guess my impression of Russian women is based on growing up during the Cold War. I think part of our propaganda was to give the impression all Russian women were ugly (because they were communists).

    • Some women feel guilty for being raped, thinking, they did someting to provoke or nothing to prevent it. It’s the only little part I had a problem with. I was wondering whether this could have been a cold war thing. Russia is such a huge country, I guess it also depends from what region someone comes.

  6. […] The Cranes are Flying (Russia 1957) WWII. Extremely moving film about a young woman who waits for her lover to return from the war. (See my review) […]

  7. […] The Cranes are Flying aka Letyat zhuravli  (1957) A young woman waits for the love of her life to return from the war. The movie shows the battlefield and the home front. (See my review) […]

  8. dd says:

    best movies
    Samoilova is very beautiful actress!!!

  9. […] The Cranes are Flying – Letyat zhuravli (1957) Russian movie. Very expressive and beautiful movie about a woman who waits for her lover to return from war. WWII. (Here is my review) […]

  10. […] The Cranes are Flying – Letyat zhuravli (1957) Russian movie. Very expressive and beautiful movie about a woman who waits for her lover to return from war. WWII. (Here is my review) […]

  11. […] war movie, which is often mentioned together with another famous Russian movie of the same time, The Cranes are Flying aka Letyat zhuravli. Both films are excellent and combine heartfelt stories with luminous black and white […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.