The Cranes are Flying (1957)

by Afra Nariman

The Cranes are Flying (1957)

Director: Mikhail Kalatozov

Stars: Tatyana Samoylova, Aleksey Batalov, Vasili Merkuryev


“Forget the past. It’s human nature to forget.”

Of course the film’s story is absolutely incredible — parts beautiful, others heartbreaking, all of it powerful — particularly worth noting is how fantastic the cinematography, editing, sound design, and score are. The way the film seems to play with light and shadow, angles and movement, faces and landscapes, is all truly stunning. 

One of the many significant elements of the film that stood out to me was the intentional dichotomy of sounds — sound, more specifically silence is so important in this film. When Veronika first rushes to find her home destroyed and family killed during the first air raid, it is with deafening silence — the camera showing only a ticking clock that somehow managed to survive the air raids — that this reality sets in. In this scene all of the above is featured — a close up of her face from an angle, lights and shadows blended, and utter silence in response to the overwhelming sound of the air raid moments earlier, as well as the chaos surely unfolding in her mind and heart in that moment. 

Another stunning moment that features a combination of all of the above, especially in regard to the importance of sound in this film is during a later air raid, when Veronika — numbly claiming she is not afraid of anything anymore — refuses to retreat to shelter. As the air raid commences and the sound of bombs, the sound of death, overwhelms the scene; Mark, seemingly as a form of combat against, and protection from these ugly sounds, begins to passionately play the piano. The film continually highlights moments that illustrate the sentiment of fighting the ugliness of war with beauty, moments that represent death with things that represent life (in this scene, music; in the final scene, flowers), etc. This particular scene goes on, while featuring more plays on light, shadows, and angles, to create what becomes the main conflict of the film’s story. In a war film where one of the two protagonists goes off to fight on the front lines, it’s the interior conflict that the second protagonist, Veronika experiences that takes precedent for the remainder of the film. 

And the final scene was a perfect way to end a film that somehow balanced war and beauty, life and death, & grief and giddiness.

“That’s love, my dear — a mutual giddiness.”

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