Sunday, March 18, 2012

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957, USSR)

Veronika is the suffering daughter of Mother Russia; strong, resilient, brutalized but victorious, whose inglorious and unjust burden must be shared with her comrades and country because it is too great; this unbearable sadness that touched all Russians in the Great Patriotic War. This elegantly simple love story is a metaphor for the sacrifice of every citizen during the war; but deep in its heart, we can feel the pulse of humanity and raw emotion, we love Veronika and feel her personal loss as she fears becoming an empty vessel filled with the ether of hopelessness. 

Director Mikhail Kalatozov embraces Veronika’s lovely visage, often filming in extreme close-up to reveal a startling beauty tainted by despair. The frenetic cinematography utilizes many exciting tracking shots through crowds, spiraling camerawork as Boris races towards his lover’s apartment, and Veronika’s heartbreaking rush towards her parents burning fate…and fatality. The inspiring cinematography truly shines: Veronika’s mad dash towards Boris’s departure is a long tracking shot through a frenzied patriotic crowd; the camera begins with a medium shot at her level then gradually pulls up and backward in a fantastic crane shot as she dances between parading Russian tanks. Boris madly searches the crowd for her; we see him run left to right in another long tracking shot as bars separate him from his lost love. Cut to: Veronika running right to left, our point-of-view on the other side of the metal fence, as she wishes for one last kiss before he marches off to war. This brilliant visual dichotomy subliminally informs the viewer that they will never meet again, that the black iron prison of death will always divide them. 

Another brilliant scene is the bombing of Moscow, as the thunder and shrapnel shatters glass, bathing Veronika and Mark (Boris’s cousin who is cruelly exempt from the draft) in grim flashing quicksilver while she is raped and emotionally severed from the world. She marries Mark and though she is treated callously as a traitor, the father finally discovers the truth and forgives her. Veronika’s heart is kept hidden from the world in a tiny toy squirrel: a ragged and fading note her only salvation. As the truth is disclosed, she almost sinks into denial and self-destruction but once again discovers flowering life and duty for friends and county, then looks skyward towards the flying cranes whose formation spells Victory. 

Final Grade: (A+)