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Sergey Urusevsky’s dazzling camera work is a character unto itself in The Cranes Are Flying

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Opens Friday, July 12

Even at a mere ninety-seven minutes, Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying, having a weeklong revival July 12-18 at Film Forum in a 2K restoration, is a sweeping Russian antiwar epic, an intimate and moving black-and-white tale of romance and betrayal during WWII. Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov) are madly in love, swirling dizzyingly through the streets and up and down a winding staircase. But when Russia enters the war, Boris signs up and heads to the front, while Veronika is pursued by Boris’s cousin, Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin). Pining for word from Boris, Veronika works as a nurse at a hospital run by Boris’s father, Fyodor Ivanovich (Vasili Merkuryev), as the family, including Boris’s sister, Irina (Svetlana Kharitonova), looks askance at her relationship with Mark. The personal and political intrigue comes to a harrowing conclusion in a grand finale that for all its scale and scope gets to the very heart and soul of how the war affected the Soviet people on an individual, human level, in the family lives of women and children, lovers and cousins, husbands and wives.


Unforeseen circumstances trap Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) in wartime Russia in Mikhail Kalatozov’s masterful The Cranes Are Flying

The only Russian film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes by itself, The Cranes Are Flying is a masterful work of art, a searing portrait of the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of one desperate woman. Adapting his own play, Viktor Rozov’s story sets up Boris and his family as a microcosm of Soviet society under Stalin; it’s no coincidence that the film was made only after the leader’s death. It’s a whirlwind piece of filmmaking, a marvelous collaboration between director Kalatozov, editor Mariya Timofeyeva (Ballad of a Soldier), composer Moisey Vaynberg (the opera The Passenger), and cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky, who also worked with Kalatozov on I Am Cuba and The Unsent Letter; Urusevsky’s camera, often handheld, is simply dazzling, whether moving through and above crowd scenes, closing in on Samojlova’s face and Batalov’s eyes, or twirling up at the sky. Poetic and lyrical, heartbreaking and maddening, The Cranes Are Flying is an exquisite example of the power of cinema.

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