World War II Marathon: Letyat Zhuravli (The Cranes Are Flying, 1957)

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Film #12 in the World War II Marathon!

Screenplay By: Viktor Rozov
Directed By: Mikhail Kalatozov

I had to think about Letyat Zhuravli for quite a long time after I finished watching it. There were certain elements that simply made me use the ole noggin, there were some parts that weren’t exactly sitting well with me, while in other aspects it was a film I could think back on and marvel at. At some point my thoughts began to come together and I realized why Letyat Zhuravli is a great movie that just falls short of excellence.

For the most part Letyat Zhuravli is a very simple movie. It is simple in theme, in presentation, in acting, in every way possible. This isn’t a negative though, try to keep that in mind. I feel like a broken record anytime I broach this subject, but simplicity is not a bad thing, and it certainly isn’t a bad thing in Letyat Zhuravli. I quite enjoyed the simple take on life that the movie provided, as well as the rudimentary actions and reactions of the characters. In many ways the simplicity of the film tied into the major theme that I took away from Letyat Zhuravli, that time goes on.

The argument can be made that Letyat Zhuravli is an anti-war film, but I didn’t view it as such. I don’t think Letyat Zhuravli wants to say much about war, rather it is interested in the lives of people as a war rages on. There’s a subtle shot of a clock still ticking away in Veronica’s bombed out apartment, and this gets back to my original point, that time always is in motion. We like to think that the big events stop everything, but that isn’t the case. No matter how big the event life continues around it and time ticks away at the same pace. Veronica’s actions in leaving Boris for Mark may seem stupid, and they are, but when veered through the idea that time does continually move forward they are at the very least forgivable.

That brings me to the heart of Letyat Zhuravli, the humanity that is at the heart of romance. We so often forget that most important part of ourselves, our own humanity. Letyat Zhuravli doesn’t forget this, it shows the missteps and mistakes that so often define romance for the human race. Boris doesn’t need to leave Veronica, but he does because he thinks it is the right thing to do. Veronica could wait for Boris, but she doesn’t because she believes she doesn’t have the strength to wait. At every turn the romance in Letyat Zhuravli is fraught with failure and bad decisions, but such is life and such is romance.

That leaves the moments where Letyat Zhuravli didn’t sit well with me. About two thirds into the film for some reason it decided to abandon its simple nature and opt for a more melodramatic veneer. This shift in tone never quite works, and the parts of the film that take place before the actual ending feel too obvious and too on the nose. It isn’t just the narrative though, it’s the camera work, the set design and the acting as well. For some odd reason the entire movie shifts dramatically into emotional overdrive and ever facet of the film puts so much focus on the melodramatic aspect that it lost me for a bit. Maybe this approach worked for others, actually I know that it did, but it left me wanting more of the simplicity found in the beginning.

Hey, when the chips are down Letyat Zhuravli is a great movie and Veronica is a complete babe, and that leaves me a happy hombre. It may falter a bit near the end, but that is not true of the majority of the film. It is well acted, well designed, written and directed. When Letyat Zhuravli is simple it manages to be a great look at romance during a time of war. Out of all the films in this marathon so far Letyat Zhuravli is the one I am most happy to have discovered for the first time. If you ever have the chance don’t pass up on seeing Letyat Zhuravli, you will miss out on some fine film making.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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