Letyat Zhuravli (The Cranes Are Flying)
Veronica and Boris are walking on the streets of Moscow and they love each other. Veronica is laughing, because they are happy together this morning. They see some cranes in the sky. When arriving to Veronica's house they talk about a rendezvous at the bank of the river. And the 2nd World War begins in Moscow. Boris works in a factory and he hasn't got time to speak with Veronica. He has to go to the war ...
Летят журавли (The Cranes Are Flying), made by Mikhail Kalatozov in 1957, with Tatyana Samojlova and Aleksey Batalov in the lead roles, and with Sergei Urusevsky as cinematographer: I watched it for the first time long time ago, on TV. I missed the chance to watch it again a couple of years ago, at Silver AFI, the cinematheque near DC in Silverspring.
It came yesterday on a TV channel, unexpectedly, only it was a very damaged copy. I found the movie immediately after, on youTube, published by cinemillenium: 12 successive videos.
Let's compare The Cranes Are Flying with the movie considered somehow its companion, Баллада о солдате (Ballad of a Soldier), made by Grigori Chukhrai in 1959. The two speak of the same thing: young people keeping their genuine purity in the horrible conditions of war; each of them treats the theme differently.
Ballad of a Soldier is just that, a ballad, about a boy at the age of discovering love in all purity, while the world he lives in is the world of war, expecting from him to fight and to be killed. It is a story told in all simplicity, because that's the way ballads are told.
The Cranes are Flying is different because the case is more nuanced. Even genuinely pure people have their weaknesses and make mistakes: blood claims its rights and flesh is weak, and wrong steps happen. But love and purity remain, and if you have a heart in yourself, don't judge and don't condemn. Only sit aside the one who took the wrong step and support her or him, and believe in her or his profound innocence and purity, because innocence and purity are beyond mistakes, and beyond wrong steps.
Kalatozov chose for this story the skin of a melodrama, which was fortunate, because it was the way melodramas are told by Russians: with elegance, with restraint, with class. There is a bit of pathetism in the movie, balanced by discretion, and balanced above all by generosity: Kalatozov had the large heart to understand mistakes, to explain them, to make us believe in ultimate purity and love.
And Urusevsky gave this movie images of haunting, hallucinatory beauty: cranes are flying, and huge trees are rotating in an endless dance, and the whole cosmos is witness to the ultimate purity and love of Veronica and Boris.