Starring: Tatyana Samoylova, Aleksey Batalov, Vasili Merkuryev
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Running Time: 97 mins
The Cranes Are Flying (Летят журавли) is a Soviet film about a young woman who arranges to meet her boyfriend by the river one day, however when he joins up to fight in the Second World War, she struggles to come to terms with the realities of life on the home front.
A romantic wartime drama with a story to rival that of any Hollywood production of the era, The Cranes Are Flying proves an impressively emotional ride throughout, with a wonderful lead performance from Tatyana Samoylova at the centre. It’s never quite the most riveting watch, with a relative lack of dramatic development through its second half in particular, but its core emotion and rousing message make it an engrossing watch all the same.
First off, the film’s setting is one of the most riveting and impressive parts of all, because while there are films from all over the world that detail the bravery of soldiers on the front lines, the story of those on the home front never quite gets the same attention.
The Cranes Are Flying, however, gives a stark and eye-opening account of the realities and struggles that those who were still living at home during the war in the Soviet Union were facing. Not only that, but it’s a story that any country can relate to, with allusions to a sense of loneliness and desperation as loved ones went off to fight, something that has been presented in a number of films from all over the world.
In that, the lead performance from Tatyana Samoylova proves crucial to your understanding of how life on the home front really is. From a sweet, innocent young lover in a blissful romance, her world is turned completely upside down when her boyfriend goes off to war, and she is left at home suffering as she awaits his return, all the while having to deal with the prospect of moving on with her life in order to survive.
Samoylova’s performance is both wonderfully sweet and immensely impressive, with the elegance needed to entice you early on to her young character, and then powering ahead with a dramatically deep and emotional turn as her character goes from hardship to hardship as the situation at home deteriorates.
And it’s that balance between the genuine likability of her character and the darker, grittier side of reality that links into the film’s rousing message. Appropriate for any country at war, the film tells of the importance of peace not only for the sake of international stability, but so that the lives of those who suffer most from war – ordinary people – can go without suffering, something that’s impossible to ignore, and makes for a brilliant conclusion to the film.
However, despite its strong emotion and impressive portrayal of the home front, the film is occasionally a little repetitive when it comes to depicting the ever-worsening condition of a country ravaged by war. While it’s a stark and powerful portrait of the hardship that even those not on the front lines do face, the film – particularly in the second half – doesn’t really bring all that much new dramatic depth to the table, failing to live up to the strong emotional drama built up in the opening act.
As a result, the film can get a little dull at times in its second half, and despite Samoylova’s fantastic turn throughout, I never felt quite as deeply connected to her character through the film’s latter period as I did earlier on, which prove a point of frustration and disappointment for me.
With that being said, The Cranes Are Flying is still an impressive film, with good emotional drama and a stark portrayal of the realities of life in wartime, all bolstered by an excellent lead performance. However, it’s never quite the most hard-hitting piece, nor the most consistently riveting watch, due to a less-than-stellar second half, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2 overall.