The Cranes are Flying (1957, Mikhail Kalatozov)

Seems like a semi-remake of A Very Long Engagement. There’s a specific scene where Veronika says if she can count to fifty before the postman arrives at the door she’ll get a letter from Boris. Then there’s the overall story, a woman looking for her man who went to war, not even stopping after she hears that he’s died. Jeunet gave his film a happy ending, but Russia in the 50’s was still mourning the millions killed a decade earlier. So, not a simply fairy tale, Veronika does not get a letter from her Boris, because he did die in the war.

It opens with the two lovers happy together, and ends with her alone, smiling but heartbroken, handing out flowers to returning soldiers. In between it’s mostly her story. She loses her family in a bombing raid and stays with Boris’s parents, then is soon coerced into marrying his brother who dodged the war. Very impressively (for 1957) mobile camera, with always excellent, careful framing, none of the indifferent framing that characterizes most handheld today (ugh, I hate saying things like that). It seems like every shot in this film has more than one purpose, making the simple close-ups that much more powerful. No surprise that the director and cinematographer went on to make the great I Am Cuba, or that this won the golden palm (over Bergman, Satyajit Ray and Mon Oncle)

C. Fujiwara for Criterion:

The film is also exceptional in refusing to condemn Veronica for her involuntary infidelity to Boris while he is at the front. In Tatiana Samoilova, The Cranes Are Flying unveiled a magnificent screen personality: expressive, sexy, dynamic. Veronica is far from a traditional war-movie heroine (not only by the standard of Soviet war movies), and Feodor’s impassioned denunciation of faithless women is clearly meant to be taken as more than just the party line, but Samoilova makes her character completely sympathetic, down to her bittersweet apotheosis in the moving final sequence. The Georgian-born Kalatozov, who began his directing career in the silent era, spent several years in Los Angeles during the war on a diplomatic assignment, and seems to have been marked by Hollywood cinema. In The Cranes Are Flying, he treats melodrama with a formal complexity worthy of Frank Borzage, King Vidor, and Vincente Minnelli – finding, with no fear of excess, potent visual correlatives to emotional states.

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