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The Cranes Are Flying (1957)
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Length: 97 minutes (1 hour, 37 minutes)
Age appropriateness: The Cranes Are Flying is not rated in the United States. This film dates to 1957, and predictably, there is no nudity, only vague allusions to sex, and very little graphic violence (related to World War II).
Creators and stars: Mosfilm, Mikhail Kalatozov, Viktor Rozov, Tatyana Samojlova, Aleksey Batalov, Vasili Merkuryev, Aleksandr Shvorin, Svetlana Kharitonova
Accuracy: This film, set in Russia during World War II, was created under the rule of Nikita Khrushchev, during the Soviet thaw that occurred following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. The Cranes Are Flying has no glaring inconsistencies, and is surprisingly realistic (and good), especially given the films that were being produced concurrently in the Soviet Union. There are even little jokes made at the expense of Stalin's Five-Year Plans.
Review: The Cranes Are Flying is a tragic love story set against World War II. Boris and Veronica are in love, hoping to get married, but find themselves separated as Boris volunteers to fight in the army. In contrast, Mark (Boris' cousin), who symbolizes Western decadence, lies to get an artist's exemption from military service. Furthermore, after Veronica loses her parents to German aerial bombing, Mark takes advantage of her grief and ends up marrying her.
Normally, most high school students do not go for black-and-white films, let alone ones with subtitles. The Cranes Are Flying is definitely the exception. The love story alone is enough to draw kids in (even the boys). Artistically, the cinematography and direction are excellent (such as the scene where Veronica races up to her bombed-out apartment). Trained as a wartime documentary filmmaker, Mikhail Kalatozov masterfully operates a handheld camera while walking, only to jump into a seat and be hoisted up, creating seamless scenes that go from low crowd shots to wide-scope aerial views.
This film provides a rare look (for Western audiences) into the Soviet side of World War II (there known as the "Great Patriotic War"). Watching a film like this in the classroom provides an interesting multicultural/multinational perspective on the war, while also helping to lay the groundwork for later lessons on the Cold War.
Miscellaneous: This film was released the same year as Sputnik. The Cranes Are Flying won the Palm d'Or at Cannes in 1958. Click here to purchase the DVD.
Review Questions: How does Boris symbolize Russian sacrifices in World War II? How does Mark symbolize Western decadence? How does Veronica symbolize "Mother Russia"?
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The Cranes Are Flying Movie Review Publication Date for Citation Purposes: April 23, 2012