Hidden Classic: Letyat zhuravli (The Cranes are Flying), 1957

Alex Bell 12 December 2012

War is horror. This is the simple message of The Cranes are Flying, but unlike more modern classics, Georgian director Mikhail Kalatozov draws our focus to the battle at home.

Coming in the wake of Soviet leader Khrushchev’s attack on the previous repressive Stalinist regime and his liberalisation of cinematic freedoms, The Cranes are Flying represents a move away from Socialist Realism’s artistic monopoly. No longer presented with Soviet archetypes, our protagonists have real depth. Few have portrayed the insular and claustrophobic world of domesticity with such earnestness. Tatiane Samoilova lights up the screen as the heroine, separated from her fiance by the Second World War. Though the plot is traditional and relatively unimaginative, we are overwhelmed by the feeling we are witnessing the birth of modern cinema. The camera work is innovative, with one particular dream sequence sending chills down the spine.

The Cranes are Flying offers us a balanced view of the War’s deep impact on the Russian psyche, from the patriotism it inspired to the despair it instilled. But more than that, it is a movie about freedom: freedom from artistic constraint, freedom from fear, freedom from artificiality. War is horror, but all wars end. That is reason enough to hope.

Alex Bell