Thursday, March 20, 2008


A harmless (sometimes) form of mental illness

By Edward Copeland
Among many of the best foreign language films that made our Ray Memorial List, it seems that they don't try anything fancy. They just tell a simple story and do it exceedingly well. That's certainly the case with The Cranes Are Flying, which landed at No. 100 on the list and which I recently saw for the first time.

Mikhail Kalatozov's film tells a story of love and war, particularly in Russia during World War II. Boris and Veronika (Aleksey Batalov and Tatyana Samojlova) are young and in love, hoping to get married.

However, Boris is soon drafted into the Army, the day before her birthday. Boris leaves a note begging Veronika to stay true to him and inserts it into a gift, but interruptions leave Veronika believing Boris forgot her birthday entirely.

Sensing the opportunity, Boris' cousin Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin) lays plan to make Veronika his own. Mark is a musician who has finagled his way out of service in the war. As Mark says, "Only fools will fight."

After basically seducing Veronika by way of rape, Veronika, still thinking Boris has spurned her, marries Mark, only soon to regret it. At the same time, Boris fights the war and is seriously injured to the point that it's mistakenly thought he's been killed.

As Veronika eventually realizes the mistakes she's made, she longs to reunite with Boris, building to a very powerful ending. Kalatozov directs with confidence and crafts a beautiful story, with solid support from Viktor Rozov, adapting his own play, and Sergei Urusevsky's photography.

The real strength of the film though lies in Samojlova's beautiful performance. It's at times a work of perfect stillness, but when she reacts, the effect is as spellbinding as the film itself.

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I'm convinced that if more people had seen it (and I wonder what they're waiting for..) it would have landed significantly higher on that list. And while I agree with you that in terms of plotting it's a very simple film, but in terms of style I feel (like most film in the Ray Memorial) it's mind-bogglingly sophisticated. After all, Kalatozov did go on to make I Am Cuba.
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