Sunday, May 18, 2014

2014 Cannes Marathon: The Cranes are Flying


(Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival)



Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov and written by Viktor Rozov from his play, The Cranes are Flying is the story of a woman dealing with the separation of her lover during World War II as she tries to come to terms with the chaos of war while dealing with her lover’s cousin. The film is an exploration about war and its affect on those who are waiting at home for their loved ones to come home. Starring Tatiana Samoilova, Aleksey Batalov, and Vasili Merkuryev. The Cranes are Flying is a powerful and haunting film from Mikhail Kalatozov.

Set during the Soviet Union’s conflict with Germany in World War II, the film explores the life of a young woman whose lover has volunteered for service in the war as she waits for him as well as letters. Yet, Veronica (Tatiana Samoilova) remains in Moscow as she endures the horrors of war at her home as she would survive bombings as well as deal with the fact that she hasn’t heard word from Boris (Aleksey Batalov) who is in the front lines of fighting the Germans. Adding to Veronica’s anguish and despair is the pursuit of Boris’ cousin Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin) who mysterious got an exemption from service as he wants Veronica for selfish reasons causing trouble in Boris’ family as they’re forced to live in Siberia during the war as Veronica still waits for any word from Boris.

Viktor Rozov’s screenplay has this very unique structure where the first act is about Veronica and Boris living a happy life before the latter has to go to war as an act of duty for the country. Boris’ family adores Veronica though his father (Vasili Merkuryev) isn’t sure about Boris volunteering for the war as he is an army surgeon. He does let Veronica be with the family in the film’s second act once war starts to get into Moscow as the narrative moves back-and-forth from Veronica at home waiting for Boris and Boris in the battlefield. The third act is about Veronica being with Boris’ family as she has reluctantly married Mark much to the chagrin of the family as she becomes unhappy and anguished over Boris’ whereabouts. Especially as she encounters the horrors of war as well as her actions that has questioning about life itself.

Mikhail Kalatozov’s direction is definitely stylish yet has these images that are just filled with beauty and terror. Much of it involves this very engaging images that are very immediate in the way he presents them such as Boris running up the stairs to see Veronica as it has this style that is so entrancing to watch. There’s also some elaborate crane and dolly shots that add to the sense of drama about war and its ideas. The scenes set in Moscow where it features these haunting images of barracks showcase a world that is much darker as it places to the uncertainty and terror that Veronica would face throughout the film. Especially in some very intense scenes where Veronica comes face to face with its impact as it would play to the decisions she would make in the film’s second act.

The war scenes do have some beautiful images yet it is mixed with something that is very grimy as it doesn’t shy away from its dark realities. Especially as Kalatozov doesn’t go for any intense battle scenes but rather the preparation for battle and the struggle to survive in the murky swamps in Russia. The compositions also have Kalatozov bring some ambiguity over the way Mark pursues Veronica and how he would shame her into marrying him as the third act would reveal how he got exempt from military duty as it would add to the drama. Especially in Veronica’s anguish as it plays into this sense of style as the film’s ending is this mix of homemade film footage with fictional scenes as it plays to the horrors of war and the desire for peace. Overall, Kalatozov creates a very mesmerizing and touching film about a woman dealing with the chaos of war.

Cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography with its use of lighting schemes for many of the film‘s interiors as well as playing this mix of grimy and beauty into some of the film‘s exterior scenes. Editor Mariya Timofeyeva does amazing work with the editing in creating some offbeat rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s livelier scenes as well as some gorgeous usage of dissolves with superimposed images to play into the sense of fantasy for Boris and Veronica. Production designer Yevgeni Svidetelev does fantastic work with the set pieces from the way the barracks lined up on the city of Moscow to the cramped home Veronica lived with Boris‘ family in Siberia.

Costume designer Leonid Naumov does excellent work with the costumes from the uniforms of the army as well as the wedding dress Veronica hoped to wear in her dream wedding with Boris. The film’s sound by Igor Mayorov is terrific for its array of sound effects from the air raid sirens and the chilling intimacy in the hospital ward where Veronica worked as a nurse. The film’s music by Moisey Vaynberg is superb for its somber and, sometimes, bombastic score to play into the horrors of war as well as the sense of hope that Veronica yearns for.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles Valentin Zubkov as Boris’ friend Stepan, Antonina Bogdanova as Boris’ grandmother, and Svetlana Kharitonova as Boris’ sister Irina who opposed Veronica’s marriage to Mark. Aleksandr Shvorin is terrific as the very slimy Mark who aspires to be a concert pianist yet schemes his way to be exempt and take advantage of Veronica’s anguish. Vasili Merkuyev is excellent as Boris’ father Fyodor Ivanovich as a man who knows a lot about war as he is a representation of the state while trying to help Veronica with her anguish. Aleksey Batalov is superb as Boris as this man who hopes for the best with Veronica as he goes to war in the hopes he can do something for the Soviet Union and for Veronica. Finally, there’s Tatiana Samoilova in a phenomenal performance as Veronica as this young woman who waits for her lover to return while dealing with the chaos of war as she has this restraint to display her anguish as well as it’s a chilling yet evocative performance from the late Russian film star.

The Cranes are Flying is an incredible film from Mikhail Kalatozov that features a radiant performance from Tatiana Samoilova. The film isn’t just a compelling anti-war film but also a film that explores war told from those not serving in the battleground. Especially as it has a universal message about the ideas of war and peace along with those who have been affected by the horror of war. In the end, The Cranes are Flying is a remarkable film from Mikhail Kalatozov.

© thevoid99 2014

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