The Cranes Are Flying (Russian: Летят журавли, translit. Letyat zhuravli) is a 1957 Soviet film about World War II.
It depicts the cruelty of war and the damage suffered to the Soviet psyche as a result of World War II (known in the Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War).
It was directed at Mosfilm by the Georgian-born Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov in 1957 and stars Aleksey Batalov and Tatiana Samoilova. It was adapted by Viktor Rozov from his play.
Moscow, 22 June 1941, Veronika and her boyfriend Boris watch cranes fly over the city as the sun rises, then sneak back into their families’ apartments. Hours later, Boris’s cousin Mark wakes him with news. The Germans have invaded.
Veronika soon learns Boris volunteered for the army. Boris asks his grandmother to give Veronika her birthday gift, a stuffed squirrel toy (“squirrel” is Boris’s pet name for Veronika), into which he slides a love note. Veronika arrives too late to see Boris at his apartment, but his grandmother gives Veronika the stuffed squirrel. Veronika searches for Boris at the assembly station, but misses finding him there too, as he marches off to war.
Veronika remains in Moscow with her parents, who are killed in a German air raid, which also destroys their apartment building. Boris’s family invites the orphaned Veronika to stay with them.
Boris serves at the Front. He gets into an argument with another soldier, Volodya, who insults a photo of Veronika. Their commanding officer catches them fighting and assigns them a dangerous reconnaissance mission. Boris saves Volodya’s life, but Boris gets shot. In his final moments, he has a vision of the wedding he and Veronika never had.
Back in Moscow, Boris’s cousin Mark tells Veronika he loves her, but she faithfully waits for Boris. Veronika and Mark are alone in the apartment when another air raid occurs. Mark makes a pass at her. She rebuffs him. Furious at being rejected, he rapes her. Mark shames Veronika into marrying him. She despises him, but does not tell the family about the rape, thus they believe she betrayed Boris, who they all think is still alive.
To escape the German offensive, the family is relocated to Siberia. Veronika works as a nurse in a military hospital run by Boris’s father Fyodor. Mark and Veronika are miserable in their marriage.
When a soldier in the hospital becomes hysterical upon receiving a letter saying his girlfriend left him, Veronika rushes to get Fyodor, who is processing arriving wounded troops. She barely misses seeing the injured Volodya, who is about to be admitted to the hospital, before Fyodor says the hospital is full. Fyodor admonishes the distraught soldier to forget his unfaithful girlfriend. Veronika overhears Fyodor’s speech and becomes upset, since she appears to be such a woman.
Overwhelmed with guilt, Veronika tries to throw herself in front of a train. Just before she attempts suicide, she sees a young boy about to be hit by a car and rescues him. The boy has been separated from his mother and his name is Boris. Veronika takes the boy home and looks for her squirrel toy from Boris. Boris’s sister Irina spitefully tells Veronika that Mark is giving the toy to his mistress, at her birthday party. Veronika races over to the party, where a partygoer has finally found the note Boris hid. Veronika grabs it, and Boris narrates this final tender love note to her.
Fyodor learns Mark bribed his way out of being drafted into the Red Army. Fyodor realizes Mark betrayed Russia and the family, and has taken advantage of Veronika. Fyodor kicks Mark out, and Veronika is forgiven by the family for “betraying” Boris. The boy Veronika saved becomes part of the family. Later, Volodya, having recovered, comes in search of Boris’s family, and tells them Boris is dead.
In 1945, the war has ended and Veronika and Volodya stroll by the river back in Moscow. They are very close, but Veronika still refuses to believe Boris is dead, since Volodya was injured himself and never saw Boris die. When Boris’s unit returns, Veronika carries a huge bouquet of flowers, intending to give them to him, and hunts for him and his friend Stepan during a celebration at the train station. Veronika finds Stepan and finally learns Boris is indeed dead. Veronika stumbles in tears through the celebrating crowd. As Stepan gives a rousing speech, asserting that those who died in the war will never be forgotten, Veronika goes from grieving to handing out her flowers to the returning soldiers. When she looks up, cranes are flying again in the sky over Moscow.
- Tatiana Samoilova as Veronika.
- Aleksey Batalov as Boris.
- Vasili Merkuryev as Fyodor Ivanovich.
- Aleksandr Shvorin as Mark.
- Svetlana Kharitonova as Irina.
- Konstantin Nikitin as Volodya.
- Valentin Zubkov as Stepan.
- Antonina Bogdanova as Grandmother.
- Boris Kokovkin as Tyernov.
- Yekaterina Kupriyanova as Anna Mikhajlovna.
- It won the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, the only Soviet film to win that award, although The Turning Point (1946) was one of eleven films awarded that year’s Grand Prix, the predecessor of the Palme d’Or.
- When the film was released in the Soviet Union, it caused a sensation amongst audiences weaned on propaganda fare.
- For the first time, audiences were able to weep at the pain of losing millions of their population in the war.
- It was also the first time that subjects like draft dodging, war profiteering and the black market had been expressed on film.
- One of the most notable features of the film is cinematographer Sergey Urusevskiy’s then ground-breaking use of hand-held cameras.
- He had learned how to film like this when he was a military cameraman during the war.
- With the death of Stalin in 1953, the “cult of personality” that had infused many Soviet movies during his rule began to relax.
- The caused caused quite a stir upon its release as it deviated from that ruling.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Mikhail Kalatozov.
- Writer(s): Viktor Rozov.
- Music: Moisey Vaynberg.
- Cinematography: Sergey Urusevsky.
- Editor(s): Mariya Timofeyeva.
- Production: Mosfilm.
- Distributor(s): Warner Bros.
- Release Date: 12 October 1957.
- Running Time: 95 minutes.
- Rating: U.
- Country: Soviet Union.
- Language: Russian.