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The Criterion Collection presents
"You know, when you're with me, I'm not afraid of anything, not even the war."
DVD Review"Nothing will happen to me." - Boris
Taking the Palme d'Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, Mikheil Kalatozov's The Cranes are Flying (Letjat zhuravli) was one of the first Russian films to show the consequences of war without the political propaganda dictated by the Stalinist regime. Based on the play by screenwriter Viktor Rosov, its reception at home was exceptional, and the international recognition it garnered heralded a new era of Soviet cinema. Freed of the nationalistic optimism of previous films, it dared to take the effects of war to a personal level, going as far as to criticize, though not heavy-handedly, the ranks of privilege and duty to country.
On the eve of the German invasion in June of 1941, Veronica (Tatiana Samoilova) and Boris (Aleksei Batalov), deeply in love, share an idyllic afternoon together, as high above the city, the cranes are in flight. The two are destined to be married, but when news of the outbreak of war comes, Veronica fears her lover will be drafted. Boris' cousin, Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin), tells her that Boris could apply for an exemption due to his status, at the same time professing his own love for the girl, but Veronica is steadfast in her commitment to Boris. Later, as she and Boris share their dreams of the future together while hanging the blackout drapes in her parent's apartment, Boris' coworker arrives with news that they will be leaving that afternoon. It is then that Boris reveals that he has in fact volunteered for duty, a shock to his fiancée and his parents. His father (Vasili Merkuryev) is furious that his son would enlist, but it is too late. Caught in the madness of a city preparing for war, Veronica arrives late for his departure, her last glimpse of her husband-to-be is as he parades through the streets before being shipped off to the front lines, amidst the throngs of parting families.
"In wartime, it's important not to lose your head. Try to live a normal life." - Mark
As the weeks pass, Veronica waits for news from Boris, but no correspondence arrives. When her parents are killed in an air raid, she moves in with Boris' family, which places her in close proximity to the draft-dodging Mark, who takes advantage of the situation. Uncertain of the fate of the man she loves, she resigns herself to marry Mark, and takes up work as a nurse, but her hope for Boris' safe return still burns in her heart. Burdened by guilt, her love unrequited, and her dreams of the future in shambles, she has to come to terms with what the fates have handed her. Will Boris come back as he promised, or has she lost him forever?
The Cranes are Flying is a rich and powerful piece, with great performances from its principles. Tatyana Samojlova is simply radiant on screen, conveying the confusion and despair of a woman who has lost everything she holds dear. Vasili Merkuryev does a great job as Boris' outspoken father, delivering some of the most pivotal scenes. The look is exquisite, with Sergei Urusevsky's cinematography utilizing an enormous range of styles, from spacious overhead shots to tight handheld work, montages and extreme close-ups. The presentation is sumptuous, with compositions rich in detail, and depth. Underscored with Moisej Vajnberg's musical backing, the atmosphere created is magical and, despite the dark subject matter, inspiring to watch for its beauty. It is no wonder that this film has captured the attention of the world's audiences.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Criterion has done it again with another beautiful black & white transfer. Detail is exquisite, tonal rendering is perfect, and defects are extremely hard to come by. The depth of the image is conveyed wonderfully; grain is soft and natural. This looks fantastic.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The Russian monoraul soundtrack is presented well, surprisingly clean and free of any major distortion. Due to the source, dialogue is a bit thin and sibilant, but the musical soundtrack is clear and well defined. There's not a lot of frequency extension here, but it sounds natural for a film of this era.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: While containing the longest cut available on DVD (contrary to claims on the R0 packaging), this is the only area where this disc suffers, being repleat of even so much as a trailer, likely due to licensing issues. Menus are nicely animated, using music from the film in the background.
The insert contains an essay on the film.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsCriterion delivers another solid, movie-only edition. The Cranes Are Flying is a wonderful film with great performances and superb cinematography, as well as a well-paced, fully developed story. The transfer here is stunning, breathing new life into a masterwork of Russian cinema.
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