Customer Reviews: The Cranes are Flying (The Criterion Collection)
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on January 20, 2003
This is one of my favorite movies. It's quality is typical of what I have come to expect of a Criterion reconstruction. Something along the lines of HDTV black and white. It's that good. The story itself is situated at the begining of Russia's Great Patriotic War (WWII). The story covers every inch of human behaviour including happiness, love, sorrow, deceit, manipulation, and heroism against all odds. The last quarter of the movie is a stunning surprise, as it builds to an ending scene that is nothing less than a grand tribute to the best of what makes us human. Even hardcore war movie fans (like me) can expect blurred vision at the end of this film. Not sappy at all, this film will strike a chord with viewers of any country, and most generations. It is not a single view disk.
I don't even know if it has an English language soundtrack, as the tonality of the Russian soundtrack combined with the very well produced English subtitles offers a great connection to the film even for non Russian speaking people. Buy this disk, you wil enjoy it over and over.
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on August 19, 2001
I'm pleased to see "Letyat zhuravlii" available in video, and with subtitles. This is a classic Soviet film, set during the Patriotic War. It begins with the cranes flying over Moscow, and for Veronika and Boris, the stolen evening hours are idyllic. Suddenly their plans are shattered by War. When Boris goes to the front, his fiancee cherishes his farewell gift and vows to await his return. Meanwhile, Boris' cousin, Mark, who has bribed his way to a deferment, schemes to win her heart. War reaches Moscow, and Veronika's parents perish in an air raid. She takes refuge with her fiance's family, loyally resisting the treacherous advances of Mark. Anxiously she awaits letters from the front, which never come. At last, under a barrage of bombing, Veronika is overwhelmed by grief and terror, and succumbs to the cousin's wiles. At the same time, on the frontlines, alone, Boris succumbs to his wounds. Veronika, unaware of Boris' death, weds Mark but remains haunted by guilt. She flees her arrogant, abusive husband to serve as a nurse in a military hospital. When War ends, she has convinced herself that Boris will return with the cranes to Moscow. "Cranes are Flying" is a simple, tragic story, filmed artistically for its time, but without cinematic subtlety. The geometric V-formation of the flying cranes, for instance, is repeated throughout the entire film. The repetative imagery of marching feet, hurrying toward eachother but never meeting, symbolizes the futility of the protagonists' love. The scene of Boris' death is melodramatically drawn out, his final dying thoughts only of his beloved. I'm not sure of the filmmaker's intent here, but honestly, I feel only relief that the likable Boris is spared the hurt of Veronika's betrayal. Despite some cliche' and distraction, "Cranes are Flying" is a worthwhile film. The final scene is powerful; the viewer will not be left dry-eyed. Recommended for anyone who cares about the human tragedy of war.
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on July 3, 2002
I've never been a huge fan of soviet cinema until I saw this great movie a few months ago. Sure Eisenstein is a great director and he made wonderful classics but this is probably the first russian movie that I can identify with the characters since the Eisenstein movies and a few others that I've seen like Earth (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1930) are very political and showing me a culture and a way of life that is interesting and informative but that I can't identify with. This movie tells a simple story about a young couple (Veronika and Boris) that is separated because Boris as to go to war. I think I love this movie so much because it is so open and so full of humanity. It is also very poetic particulary when Boris is at the front and he dreams about his girl back home. But the thing that I admire the most is the superior cinematography, the camera angles are stunning and the close-ups (very close) are almost disturbing because you feel that you are spying on them or following them anywhere they go. Also, great scenes with hand held cameras and used wisely not just to use it but at chosen moments to accentuate dramatic scenes or to show chaos during this time of war. It amaze me that a great reference for cinematography like that is not use or missuse in movies today. If you can, try to catch the movie I am Cuba with the same great director and the same wonderful cinematography, the story is political but unlike early russian movies of Eisenstein and such, the characters are warmer and you can identify with them.
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on November 16, 2002
This is one of those few Russian films that truly has to be seen to be believed. Words simply do not do it justice. The story is simple enough. Boris and Veronika are in love with each other but when war breaks Boris volunteers for the fighting, leaving her to the care of his deceitful cousin. Now, the film itself was made during the 'Soviet Thaw' when film makers were given a bit more freedom with which to work, and it shows in the realism of The Cranes are Flying. There is no glorification of war here as it is shown for what it is, a brutal event that seperates loved ones and inevitably leads to death and sorrow for most. There is very little, if any, political propaganda to sift through and the camerawork is absolutely next level. Perhaps the only thing better than the cinematography in this movie are the performances. In fact, it could be said that the only thing more beautiful than Tatyana Samoilova herself, is the performance she gives. An incredible portrayal of a love that triumphs against all odds.
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on February 14, 2007
It does not surprise me that this short (91 minutes) B/W movie that was made 50 years ago in the Soviet Union during the short period called "ottepel'" or "the thaw", has gained so much love and admiration among the movie lovers over the world. It is sublime and beautifully filmed. Some scenes feel like there were made way ahead of their time. Sergei Urusevsky's camera work and creative discoveries were included in the text books and widely imitated. The film tells the moving and timeless story of love destroyed by merciless war but eternally alive in the memory of a young woman. It is also the film about loyalty, memories, ability to live on when it seems there is nothing to live for; it is about forgiveness, and about hope. The film received (absolutely deservingly) the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival and Tatiana Samoilova was chosen as a recipient of a special award at Cannes for playing Veronika, the young girl happily in love with the best man in the world in the beginning of the movie. After separation with her beloved who went to the front, the loss of her family in the bomb ride, and the marriage to the man she never loved and only wished he never existed, she turned to the shadow of herself, she became dead inside. Her long journey to redemption, to finally accepting death of her beloved and to learning how to live with it, is a fascinating and heartbreaking one and it simply won't leave any viewer indifferent.

For me, the movie is very personal and dear because I was born and grew up in the city where its characters lived and were so happy in the beginning. I walked the same streets, squares, and bridges over the Moskva River. Every family in the former Soviet Union had lost at least one but often more than one family member to a combat or to the concentration camp or to the ghetto or to hunger, cold, and illnesses during WWII and my family is not exception. My mother and grandmother knew the horrors of war and never healing pain of losses not just from the movies and the books. "Cranes are Flying" speaks to me clearly and honestly and touches me very deeply. It is a masterpiece of movie making but it is a part of my life - my background, my memory, and my past.
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on March 1, 2002
Kalatozov captures a time of beauty in his retrospective look at the relationship between a war-bound young man and the woman left behind. The use of black and white, as well as the use of several hyper-reality dream sequences set a mood of uncertainty and hope. One especially poignant scene is when the young woman loses consciousness during an air raid, while Boris's cousin plays the piano, attempting to win her love. The window breaks and he carries her over the broken glass, a Russian symbol of broken promises.
The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957) shows the agony and the waste of human life that was caused because of World War II, as seen through the eyes of a young woman home without her fiancé, who had volunteered for the war, and was killed while fighting on the front lines. This film would not have been possible when Stalin was alive, for it shows the sadness and the anguish experienced by those left at home without loved ones. There was nothing heroic about Boris's death, as he was shot by a sniper and spent his last moments writhing in a bog. This cannot be seen as uplifting according to wartime Stalinist cinema, for it does not show the glory and the pride that every soldier is supposed to feel when fighting for Russia. It shows the truth, blatantly writing in draft dodgers, the realities of air raids, and the difficulty of keeping contact with loved ones. This was a breakthrough film, for it signals the rising awareness of the Soviet filmgoer, and his or her ability to handle a dose of the truth, even if it is in retrospective form. This acceptance of the truth is closely related to the increase in communist self-confidence. It is almost as if the Soviets realize that they are indeed Communist to the core, and do not need to justify it by eliminating all interior creativity or new ideas that may someday appear to threaten the socialist regime.
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on July 13, 2014
While it does get melodramatic quite often, this is still an absolutely remarkable film. I also had a hard time picking which was more beautiful, Tatyana Samoylova or the camera work.

This is the fourth Kalatozov film I've now seen - 'Soy Cuba', 'Letter Never Sent', and 'Salt for Svanetia' the other three - so I was at least prepared for how incredible this movie was going to look but I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around what Kalatozov could do with a camera.

I mean nothing in this film looks bad. Even the normal static shots with actors just talking to each other are beautiful to look at. Nothing Kalatozov did was boring. Ever. His camera was simply alive. Even the over-the-top scenes in the film (the bombing during the piano scene and the running scene near the train), for as insane as they are they actually work. Those two scenes are so absolutely out of control with creativity that it doesn't really matter that it's also outrageously melodramatic. Somehow through his camera Kalatozov actually turns melodrama into a strength to tell a deeper story. I can't think of a single artist in any other medium that pulls that off.

I'm beginning to think Mikhail Kalatozov was one of the greatest director who ever lived. He breaks every rule, he did things with a camera that even today, with equipment you can hold in your hand, nobody south of Alfonso Cuarón even dreams of doing. He was like a mad genius who somehow bypassed actors, sets, costumes, physical cameras, lights, and everything that goes into the production of a film and implanted the fevered visions in his head into a movie projector through some sort of forgotten magic. He wasn't a movie director, he was a conjurer.

More people need to see his films; he could reinvent cinema, 40 years after his death.
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on April 23, 2013
I have watched most of the criterion collection Russian films and I have never been disappointed. If you look this film up on imdb it has a 7 ish rating, and although an accurate rating, it doesn't quite do the film justice. There is an intensity in every scene that you will not find in many movies past or present. The acting is also remarkably sharp. I actually believe the actors.

I highly recommend this to anyone studying the Russian language as well, because of the simplicity if the (street) language that is used by the characters.
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VINE VOICEon June 29, 2007
CRANES is known to most film students as the first major post-Stalin success of the Soviet film industry -- but the picture's vastly more enjoyable than that dry statistic would suggest. Lyrical and rhapsodic, this film benefits greatly from a director, cameraman and actors who don't shy away from the extravagant gesture, the romantic moment, or the juice inherent in melodrama. Viewers will be swept away by a poignant love story and its operatic manner of telling, from a joyful, playful opening to the bittersweet conclusion. The screenplay's also a fascinating mix of the romantic and cynical -- what a breath of fresh air this film must have seemed to audiences in its original release, with their memories of the suffering hidden behind the recent war's heroic facade. This DVD transfer's exceptionally good, even for Criterion -- CRANES wears its age lightly here, the film looks new-minted. If you're unfamiliar with this classic, don't hesitate to snatch it up.
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on March 28, 2013
Listening to an old recording from 1960 At the Hungry i on which stand-up comedian/commentator Mort Sahl sagely decries The Cranes Are Flying to his faithful audience as 'awful' and 'heavy handed', I was intrigued. I wondered, how bad could this be,especially knowing of its release on Criterion dvd. I thereupon struck out and procurred a copy from my trusty rental store and inserted the disc into my player. I would have to say that from the very first frame, Mr. Sahl, with all due respect, is way off. Gorgeously shot in black and white, I can recite scene after scene that left me spellbound. One, in which a dying soldier flashes upon one final dream. Another, when a girl stands amidst the rubble of her parents home just after an air raid. Abound with gorgeous close-ups of leading lady Tatyana Samoylovas' face (where are these planes you refer to Mort?) and stunning cinematography throughout, this film tells the story of how a family and a fiancee in particular must deal with the tragedy of war. You can certainly see how Cranes won the grand prize at Cannes in 1957 and having now seen the movie twice and have now added this gem to my collection, I need to ask Mort if he still feels the same.
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