I don’t think I’ve seen a WWII film from the point of view of the Soviets yet. I guess I just never thought to think they had them, but of course they must’ve. Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying is just such a film, set during the war amidst a nondescript Soviet town as they endure the war and it’s various hardships. Specifically, the film deals with a particular couple, as the man is sent off to war and the woman deals with being left behind. There’s a lot here to like, and a hell of a lot more to appreciate. I wasn’t too certain why this made the list before I watched it, but after, I’m glad that it did, as I probably would never have seen it if it hadn’t, and that would have been a real shame.
The first thing that stuck out at me as I watched the film was how clear the cinematography is. It’s very crisp and refreshing, even with the somewhat morose subject matter. There are a lot of very nice camera angles, as well as some excellent use of light and shadow; this film just looks very highly crafted all around, by a true artisan of the cinema, and I got a heck of a lot out of it. Another thing I noticed, a weird little detail, is that Kalatozov seems to really like crowd scenes. There are a good number of them in the film, and most if not all of them are single long takes, almost as if Kalatozov was reborn as Alfonso Cuaron in his next life. The story itself was very well done, taking the right turns and curves with the narrative instead of opting out of them in favor of a more viewer-friendly experience, and the acting, especially by the female lead Veronika, was top-notch.
I hadn’t read the Book’s entry for this film before I saw it, but I did once it was finished, and I’m glad I waited. The Book makes a big deal about how radical this film was for its time period, being about the futility and immaturity of war rather than a heroic propaganda piece, and it also made a big deal about how this film symbolized the revival of Soviet cinema in the post-war filmscape. If I’d have read all that they said before I watched the film, it would have colored my perception a little too much, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed the film’s breathtaking cinematography and simple but effective wartime love story as much as I did. Hopefully, you won’t have that experience, especially since I just told you what the Book had to say about this one; keep in mind the barest values that a cinematic work aspires to contain, appreciate the elements of the film that are actually up on screen for you to experience, and I think you’ll end up liking this a good deal.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10