Monday, 16 April 2012

SOVIET FILM: Kalatozov's 'The Cranes are Flying', 18 Apr, London

Wed 18 April 2012 – 7.15pm
The Cranes are Flying 
Introduction by Vitaly Yerenkov 
In association with Kino Kino! Film Club
Language: In Russian with English subtitles

USSR, 1957, dir. Mikhail Kalatozov, b/w, 95 mins, cast: Tatyana Samoilova, Alexei Batalov
A Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, an eye-opener for Westerners wary of ramrod Soviet-cinema propaganda, one of the first major works made during the post-Stalinist “thaw” of the late 1950s: Mikhail Kalatozov’s tale of love during wartime has earned its landmark status several times over. But to think of this exquisite tragedy as a Communist-art curio would be doing yourself a great disservice. The Cranes Are Flying is anything but a museum piece; rather, it’s the kind of timeless, devastating melodrama that can leave the most jaded of audience members moist-eyed.

The story sounds like pure WWII hokum: Boris (Batalov) and his beloved “squirrel,” Veronika (Samojlova, making the most of her Falconetti-worthy close-ups), are hopelessly smitten with each other. Then she discovers he’s just volunteered to fight on the Eastern Front, and fate, along with Boris’s slimy cousin (Shvorin), conspires against any happily-ever-after ending for the couple. Kalatozov’s masterstroke, however, was to hijack Russia’s kino-fist style and use it to craft an emotionally expressionistic love story; the melding of virtuoso bombast to such swooning, punch-drunk material becomes a seamless marriage of form and content. You can see the director and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky trying out the wide-angle tracking shots they’d later employ for the pro-Castro travelogue I Am Cuba (1964), but Cranes is where their dizzy, delirious filmmaking feels truly revolutionary.

Tickets: £7, conc. £5

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