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Film / The Cranes Are Flying

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The Cranes Are Flying (Letyat zhuravli) is a 1957 film from the Soviet Union, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, starring Tatyana Samojlova and Alexsey Batalov.

It is June 1941, and Veronika and Boris (Samojlova and Batalov) are young people in Moscow who are deeply in love and engaged to be married. Unfortunately, Operation Barbarossa interrupts their happiness, as Boris volunteers to fight and leaves Veronika behind. Tragedy strikes when a German bombing raid kills Veronika's parents, leading her to move in with Boris's family: Boris's father Fyodor, Boris's mother, his sister Irina, and his cousin Mark. Mark is a composer who has somehow avoided being called up to serve in the Red Army, supposedly because he is so talented. Mark is infatuated with Veronika and continues to force his attentions on her, while she holds him at arm's length and waits for Boris, who is fighting on the front lines.

The Cranes Are Flying, released only four years after the death of Joseph Stalin ushered in a period of liberalization in the Soviet Union, is one of the first Russian films to treat the war as a tragedy. Its mournful tone strikes a dramatic contrast not only with previous Russian films about the war, but also with the generally triumphant films made in the west, Britain and the United States having sufferred far less than the Soviets did. The Cranes Are Flying is the only Russian-language film to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: The central theme of the movie is how soldiers and their lovers deal with the separation. Veronika is a Determinator who waits out for Boris over all those years, never giving up hope for him to return.
  • Alone in a Crowd: Convinced that Boris is alive, Veronika goes to meet the trains carrying back Red Army veterans. Boris' friend Stepan tells her that he is dead. Veronika staggers through the joyous crowd weeping, giving her flowers to random strangers. This trope is averted at the end, however, when Fyodor shows up and puts his arm around her.
  • Anywhere but Their Lips: When Veronika asks Boris to kiss her, he kisses her on the nose.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The war is finally over and though Boris is dead, Veronika eventually accepts the fact and seems ready to move on with her life.
  • Book Ends: The cranes are flying over Moscow in the first shot and the last, at the beginning of the war and after the end.
  • Break the Cutie: Veronika starts out as a sweet, happy girl but progressively turns into a Broken Bird due to the misery the writers put her through. See Trauma Conga Line.
  • Chiaroscuro: Moody lighting and lots of shadow in the air raid scene where Mark rapes Veronika.
  • Death Glare: Any notion that Veronika has any affection for Mark should be ruled out by the daggers she stares at him as Mark tells Boris's family that they are getting married.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Boris. He seems to be the protagonist but dies half-way through the movie and is never seen again.
  • Dirty Coward: Mark got out of being drafted by bribing an official. When Fyodor finds this out he throws Mark out of the house.
  • Doorstop Baby: Veronika saves a small child from being hit by a car. It turns out he's a war orphan. She keeps him.
  • Dutch Angle: Used in moments of emotional distress, like when Veronika is looking at the clock in her family's bombed-out apartment, when Mark the predator says "I love you", and when Veronika runs out of the hospital after Fyodor's harsh monologue about faithless girlfriends.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: When the scene starts, we are on a bus filming the female lead with a hand-held camera. Suddenly the bus stops and we follow the girl off the bus into a large crowd, and as we follow her as she makes her way though the crowd, frantically trying to get through, the camera follows her right to the edge of a parade of tanks, and as she tries to get across, the camera suddenly, totally expectingly, rises, as if on a crane, and shoots the parade as it approaches towards us below, and the girl runs off through the tanks to the horizon.
  • Epiphany Therapy: In the end, all it takes for Veronika to get over Boris and to move on with her life is Stepan's New Era Speech at the station plus a few kind words by an old man.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Boris' snapshot of Veronika, which comes out just before his fatal mission—although he didn't mean to show it, it fell out when he was taking his papers out of his greatcoat.
  • Hitler Cam: Used to show Mark at the party right before he and Veronika break up.
  • Holding Hands: Boris and Veronika hold hands in the opening shot. It tells us all we know about the two characters.
  • Impairment Shot: The trees spin around Boris as he staggers and falls after being shot.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: The young soldier with his Captivity Harmonica get injured during the Army Scout mission with Boris and tells the latter to go on without him. Boris refuses and carries his partner on his shoulders into safe territory.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The toy squirrel which turns out to hold a letter from Boris.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Boris and Veronika try to find each other in the crowd when the troops take off from the city. And although it looks like they would bump into another at some point, they never do.
  • Mobstacle Course: Veronika is having a hard time making her way through the crowd, first when she tries to see Boris and again in the final scene at the train station.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: After he's shot, a dying Boris has a vision of coming home in triumph and marrying Veronika.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: A single shot of Veronika's face with her eyes going wide with fear is used to suggest that Mark raped her during the air raid.
  • Recurring Camera Shot: The opening romantic scene at the bridge with the lead couple Boris and Veronika gets repeated shot by shot later in the movie. This time with Veronika and Boris' cousin who lusts after her.
  • Stairwell Chase: Interesting camera work when Boris chases after Veronika on the stairways to her apartment.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: After Boris drops the other injured soldier off at a "safe" location, he takes a deep breath and ... gets shot.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Veronica has a pretty nice life in Moscow until the Germans attack. And her boyfriend goes into the army. And her parents are killed. And she's raped. And she's stuck in a horrible marriage with her rapist. And she's living in a shack in Siberia. And she finds out her boyfriend is dead.
  • Undercrank: The camera speeds up as a distraught Veronika runs out of the hospital and to a possible suicide at the train tracks.
  • Visual Title Drop: There's a shot of cranes flying over Moscow at the beginning of World War II and at the end, symbolizing the heroine's happiness before the war ruined everything, and how she's still carrying on after it ends.
  • Voiceover Letter: When Veronika starts reading the letter found with the toy squirrel, her voice switches over to Boris'.
  • War Is Hell: The terrible toll that World War II took on the Russian people, as shown through the eyes of one young woman in Moscow.
  • You Must Be Cold: Boris puts his jacket over Veronika in the opening scene after they get wet.