THE CRANES ARE FLYING
Review by Michael Jacobson
Tatiana Samoilova, Alexei Batalov, Vasily Merkuryev, Alexander Shvorin
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date; April 30, 2002
worth fighting for.”
Cranes are Flying is a flawless mixture of technical audacity and emotional purity…the
kind of film Russia has been specializing in since the days of the silent era.
The boldness in camerawork exists only to capture and heighten the
spirits of the various moments. If
they venture a little too close to melodrama, they can be forgiven…sometimes,
heart can be too big to contain within the confines of an aperture.
by Mikhail Kalatozov and superbly filmed by Sergei Urusevsky, Cranes is
one of a remarkable string of post-Stalinist pictures that came out of the
Soviet Union depicting war and its heartaches more truthfully than had been
allowed in that country for far too long. Like
many films of the period, it deals with World War II, but not in a broad,
sweeping, pro-military stance. It
focuses on a pair of very real and true characters, who might have lived happily
ever after, if not for the outbreak of war.
describe the film is to discuss not only the key story elements, but the
incredible cinematic technique that brings each one to the screen.
Because of that, I’ll have to forgo some of the most remarkable
technical detail to avoid spoiling plot points, but fear not…I’ll tread
carefully. Just consider that the
problem is a direct result of how much the story and technique are married in
(Batalov) loves Veronica (the lovely Samoilova), and in a few carefree moments
at the beginning of the picture, we share in their warm romance.
A superb example of how the film’s technique enhances the emotion is
when Boris sprints up several flights of stairs to follow Veronica…the
camerawork is impeccable, and the energy is almost too great to contain.
the Nazis have begun their Russian invasion, and Boris has volunteered to fight,
much to his own sadness and that of Veronica and his father, Feodor (Merkuryev).
In other sequence of technical marvel, both Boris and Veronica
frantically search for one another at the train station in long, unbroken
tracking shots that will make film students wonder how Urusevsky managed to
weave his camera so fluidly in such tight, chaotic spaces.
Boris heads for the front, Veronica is left alone but under the lustful eye of
Mark (Shvorin), a pianist who got out of being drafted because of his musical
skills (maybe). She, of course,
doesn’t return his affection, but war brings out the worst in some.
In another audacious sequence, Mark forcefully confesses his feelings to
Veronica as their faces are horrifically lit by the falling bombs just outside.
by the rape, Veronica agrees to marry Mark, much to the heartbreak of Boris’
family, whom she had been staying with since her own home was destroyed in an
air raid. The film sadly follows
both her at home and Boris on the front, and makes clear that not only has war
robbed them of their ability to be together, but of the very illusion of their
togetherness as well.
as far as I want to tread…there’s much more to the story as it works its way
towards its sober conclusion. The
cinematography continues to progress with the plot, bringing more and more
stunning shots to the screen, including one where Veronica runs frantically as
the camera tracks her with deft speed, while her image is blurred by the fence
between them. Another tour-de-force
is a short sequence that speaks volumes during a critical moment for Boris.
In other words, The Cranes are Flying is a story that could not
have been told any other way but cinematically…maybe the basic plot and
structure could have been delivered, but not the emotional impact.
not all of Kalatozov and Urusevsky’s work strives for bold effect.
One of the film’s most unforgettable images is also one of the
simplest…the luminescence of Veronica’s face as she finally finds the
goodbye letter Boris left for her on the day he departed for the front.
The lighting creates a soft, otherworldly glow upon Ms. Samoilova’s
pretty face, in a shot that Josef von Sternberg would have applauded.
Cranes are Flying is an amazing achievement by any analysis. Combining bold, fresh cinematic techniques with a moving and
emotional story about war torn lovers, it’s a picture no movie lover should
pass up for any reason.
has offered one of their most beautiful black and white transfers yet for this
DVD. Considering the age and origin
of the film, what is presented on this disc is nothing short of miraculous.
The print is exceptionally clean, the images are sharp and crisp with
remarkable detail from foreground to background, blacks are deep and strong and
whites are clean and pure. There is
no grain evident, regardless of lighting level, and the rich tones of grayscale
render flawlessly, with no distortions, chroma noise, flickering, or any other
problem you might expect from an older film.
Criterion has once again raised the bar for classic film presentation on
DVD…time for the other studios to follow suit.
may be the highest rating I’ve ever given a single channel mono mix,
particularly one for a subtitled film where dialogue clarity doesn’t matter
much. This is a clean, lively, and
dynamic listen from start to finish, with scenes ranging from pin-drop quiet to
boisterously loud…think of the sounds of war, the massive crowd sequences, and
so on. These all render crisply
through the center speaker, with no distortions or undue sense of cacophony.
The music by M. Vainberg is a strong plus, too.
A superb effort!