The Cranes are flying is a story about shattered love, told against the backdrop of World War II. The story centers around Veronica, a chubby, vivacious and lively girl, who is living happily, rejoicing as she’s about to get married to Boris, her lover. She is far away from worry and trouble when everything is going wrong in the world around.
But just a day before her b’day comes the news that Boris has been called for the war after he volunteered for the front.
Yeah, we all know what would have happened later. She will wait, sob and keep on hoping for his love to return. Even when someone will carry the news that Boris had died but she won’t believe and will still wait for the war to get over and Boris to return. In between the world without understanding her love and despair will force itself on her. She will get along with Life but her heart will still keep on getting the burnt of the battle fields.
It could have been any other war movie but what make it stand apart are some brilliant performances and some amazing cinematography rendering good deal of expressive realism. There are few scenes that just leave you spellbound with their elegance and heightened melodrama.
There’s a scene where Boris is hit in the battle field. A shriek comes out of his mouth as he looks above, towards the crane less sky, across the naked trees. Then we see him running up a circular staircase. The sky and the trees also start rotating in the same direction i.e. along his spiral ascends. Both frames move as if each is trying to outrun each other. The crane less sky and the naked trees symbolizing the war and Boris’s run a common man’s struggle for peace and love. As Boris reaches the top where he sees his love as the sky and the trees vanish. He sees his love Veronica getting married to him. She’s in her white wedding gown, that very gown which she pointed in the beginning of the story showing her grandma’s marriage photograph. She’s smiling and laughing. Then they both kiss each other. Then suddenly we are transported back the battle field. Boris falls with his eyes still glued towards the sky, but there is no life in them. And then he utters his last words. The words come as if they were not his or somebody else spoke them as none of his expression or his eyes gave any hint of flinching.
There’s also a scene where Boris is going to the war. Veronica arrives at his house to bid him goodbye but to her bad luck he has already left. Then she rushes to the place where all the soldiers were supposed to assemble. There is Boris behind the gates, waiting for her and searching through the faces of the visitors. She wanders here and there in the crowd assembled but any glimpse of Boris eludes her. Then the soldiers start marching with people crowding the road on both the sides. Veronica pushes and across the crowd still clutching her goodbye gift that she has brought for Boris. Struggling to move ahead she catches a glimpse of Boris marching ahead. She shouts his name but to no success. She jumps and pushes. She shouts again and then in a desperate attempt she throws her gift towards the soldiers hoping to get Boris’s to notice her. But her attempt fails and her gift falls on the road, between the marching soldiers, spilling all its contents. And what could have been her last memento to Boris gets crushed under the marching feet of the war.
Not only are these but there many other great cinematic moments. Kalatozov and Urusevsky are regarded as one of cinema’s great director/cinematographer pairings with few more great movies like The Letter That Wasn’t Sent and I am Cuba to their credit.
Here’s a link that does much more justice to the movie and also provides some historical background.