Letyat zhuravli (The Cranes are Flying) (1957) 



Director:    Mikhail Kalatozov. 

Cast:     Tatyana Samojlova (Veronika), Aleksey Batalov (Boris), Vasili Merkuryev (Fyodor Ivanovich), Aleksandr Shvorin (Mark), Svetlana Kharitonova (Irina), Konstantin Nikitin (Volodya), Valentin Zubkov (Stepan), Antonina Bogdanova (Grandmother), Boris Kokovkin (Tyernov), Yekaterina Kupriyanova (Anna Mikhajlovna).

 a girlfriend of a Russian soldier nearly loses her mind desperately waiting for his return


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Boris and Veronika run around town enjoying each other's company.  They even skip along the road.  She loves to sing a ditty about flying cranes.  Going back to Veronika's apartment building, they have to walk up the stairs carefully.  There is a dog in the apartment across from that of Veronika's and he always barks when her hears her coming up the steps.  It's late at night and Veronika wants to sneak in without waking anyone.  When she does enter the apartment, her mother sees her tip-toe past her and her husband.  She tells her husband that Veronika is crazy about Boris.  Her father responds:  "And he about her."

Boris lives with his father and mother.  Boris's cousin Mark, a very good pianist, also lives with them.  Then there is grandmother and Irina.  Mark hears the latest news over the public loud speaker.  He rushes into Boris's room and shouts:  "Boris!  War!" 

Boris was supposed to meet Veronika, but Veronika waits in vain for him.  His cousin shows up and says Boris can't make it.  He tells Veronika not to lose her head in this time of war.  He places his hand on her forearm and she takes it off.  She accuses him of following her.   Mark tells her that he can't help it.  Veronika won't even let Mark be her escort.  When Veronika and Boris get together she teases him about his not showing up but Mark did.  And she tells her boyfriend that Mark is handsome. 

Boris's friend Stepan arrives.  He tells Boris that they are to report at 5 p.m. today.  They volunteered.  Veronika is very upset.  She asks:  "What about me?"  When Boris sees his family they want to know:  "Why didn't you tell us?" 

Boris's pet name for Veronika is squirrel.  As a birthday and parting gift, he buys her a toy squirrel.  He places a note in the little basket of the squirrel and covers it with nuts.  Boris asks his family if  they see that things are tough for Veronika to help her survive.  Fyodor is very upset that his son Boris volunteered.  He says:  "He  wants adventure."  Two young women from work arrive and give Boris quite a few packages.  Veronika does not know where Boris is.  She starts searching for him.  She goes to his apartment, but learns that it is already too late.  She is told to go to the assembly station.  She runs to the station. 

Boris is very anxious about seeing Veronika before he leaves.  Irina tells him:  "Don't worry.  She'll come."  Veronika arrives, but has a hard time finding him.  She does find him eventually, but she is unable to capture his attention.  The men are told to get into formation.  They then start marching away.  Veronika desperately tries to get through the crowd, but it's impossible.  In frustration she throws her package of food at the moving formation and it smashes on the ground spilling its contents.   Boris is very sad that he did not get a chance to say good-bye to her. 

Veronika keeps waiting for a letter, but Boris has just not written.  She is set to work in the war factory.  An air raid siren sounds and she goes to the subway which is used as a bomb shelter.  When the all clear signal is given Veronika rushes to her apartment building.  Her parents had chosen to stay home rather than go to the shelter.  Veronika finds her apartment building with a great deal of bomb damage.  She runs up the stairs to check on her mother and father.  When she opens her apartment door she sees open sky and a flat surface where her apartment was once.  Boris's family takes Veronika in to live with them.  She makes frequent calls to see if there is any news about Boris.

The air raid sirens sound again.  Mark tells her that they have to go to the subway, but she refuses.  But once the bombs start falling nearby, she becomes very scared.  Mark takes advantage of her fear and kisses her.  She pushes him away, but he pursues her.  He keeps telling her "I love you" and she keeps telling him "No", but the man just won't accept no as an answer.  Finally, she just starts slapping him again and again saying "no" each time.  Veronika tells him to "Go away."  And yet he still comes and she slaps him several more times. 

Boris with his unit are surrounded by the Germans.  The officer tells Boris that he has the job of finding the best place in the German ranks at which to make a break through.    A fellow soldier named Vladimir takes a look at a picture of Veronika and tells Boris that she is probably back home doing . . ., but he doesn't finish the sentence.  Boris slugs the fellow.  The officer tells Boris he is under five days arrest and that he will have to go on reconnaissance with Vladimir. 

Mark tells his Uncle Fyodor that he and Veronika are getting married.  Irina and grandmother are so angry that they leave the dining room table.  And Uncle Fyodor is also very unhappy to hear the news. 

Boris and Vladimir are out on reconnaissance, but soon Vladimir is too tired to go on.  Boris has to drag the man behind him while Vladimir holds onto his neck.  Boris gets Vladimir to a dry place in the wet area.  But when he stands up, he is shot.  He falls flat on his back.  Help arrives.  Stepan takes a look at Boris and asks him if he is wounded.  Boris starts to say something like I'm not wounded, I'm  .  . ."  He probably was going to say I'm dead.  And it does look like Boris is dead. 

Uncle Fyodor is in charge of running the system of care at one of the local hospitals.  He and Irina meet the trains to pick up some of the wounded. Mark and his wife Veronika have to go to Siberia for their safety.  Fyodor says:  "We can't retreat much farther."  In Siberia Veronika still waits for a letter from Boris.  She tells a woman:  "I'm dying."  She adds:  "I want to die."  Mark arrives.  He tells her that his boss is coming over for dinner and that she should be nice to him.  But Veronika doesn't want to play ball.  She tells Mark:  "I wish you had never been born."   When the boss arrives, Veronika gives an excuse and leaves the room.  The boss asks Mark for a favor.  Can he please ask Fyodor for medicine. 

Veronika works at the hospital helping the wounded with some of their requests such as writing a letter home for them.  A fellow named Zacharov starts going crazy.  He just received a "Dear John" letter from his girlfriend. She could not wait for him any longer and married another man..  The jilted man is so out of control that Veronika has to run to fetch Fyodor.  He talks with the man and tells him that he is actually fortunate.  He should never marry such a false-hearted woman.  She's not worth it.  The other wounded men use the word bitch to describe the woman.  Fyodor tells all the men that "Women like her only deserve our contempt!" 

These words cut deep into Veronika, because she is just like the woman the men call a bitch.  She leaves the hospital and starts walking away and then running away.  She reaches a bridge where she slows down.  She sees a boy crossing the road who is in great danger of being hit by a car.  She runs to get the child.  The vehicle is able to stop just in time and Veronika picks up the small boy.  He has somehow been separated from his parents, so Veronika takes him home with her.  The kid's name is also Boris. 

Mark takes Veronika's toy squirrel.  He wraps it up and is going to give the squirrel to a child as a present.  When Veronika tries to find the squirrel for little Boris to play with, she is shocked to hear that Mark is in the process of giving it away.  She demands from the others at home to tell her where he is.  Apparently, Mark has been unfaithful to her.  He goes to see a woman named Antonina.  He plays piano and sings in some type of night club.  Antonina tells Mark's boss to get a vehicle to take her on a trip.  One of the women in the club starts to eat the nuts in the squirrel's basket and finds Boris's note to Veronika.  Veronika arrives and learns that there is a note from Boris for her.  She snatches the note from the hands of the woman who found it.  She asks Mark:  "Where's my squirrel?"  She then starts slapping Mark several times in the face.

Mark's boss goes to the hospital to get a vehicle from Fyodor.  Fyodor is not going to give him a vehicle, so the boss threatens to not get Mark another exemption.  Fyodor never even knew that Mark had offered/given the boss  money for an exemption.  He is shocked.  The boss realizes how upset is Fyodor and apologizes for bothering him.   When Fyodor later sees Mark he verbally hits him hard with some very basic truths about simple justice.  Veronika gets her bags packed to leave Mark and the family. Fyodor talks with her and asks her to stay.  He says he knows that she has been through a horrible experience, adding "Only someone without a heart can reproach you."  These words are somewhat soothing to the very depressed Veronika.  She decides to stay.

One day Vladimir shows up.  He explains to Veronika that he has to tell Fyodor that his son was killed  in action.   This is further devastating to Veronika.  She asks where it happened?  "West of Smolensk."  Vladimir then tells Veronika that he has to find Boris's girlfriend and tell her.  Veronika reveals her relationship to Boris.  Now it's Vladimir's turn to feel bad about the way she found out about the death.

The war is over.  Veronika still believes that Boris is alive.  When a big train filled with soldiers coming home arrives at the local railway station, Veronika is there to look for Boris.  She finally finds Stepan and asks him about Boris.  He can't get any words out, so he takes her photograph out of his shirt pocket.  Veronika knows that Boris had taken this photo with him when he went into the military.  She starts crying and crying.  She, like hundreds of others, has flowers in her hands and hugs them to her face.  An older man is concerned about her.  He tries to cheer her up.  He then tells her to get moving and give the flowers to those she wanted to give them to.  She starts handing out handfuls of flowers to various people and this seems to cheer her somewhat.  As she now stands empty-handed someone on the railway platform shouts that the cranes are flying over Moscow.  She looks up to see the cranes flying in a V-formation.  Fyodor arrives to comfort her. 


Very good movie.  Faced with a terrible situation, some people can handle it well, most can only handle it in a middling way while others can't handle the situation at all well.  Veronika was in the last category of people who cannot deal with being separated from a loved one.  Veronika was clinically depressed.  She often walked around like a zombie and even said that she wanted to die.  My wife and I never thought badly about the woman because you could see she was being mentally tortured with depression.  She's not a bad person, but rather a sick person.  Today there are lots of medications to treat clinical depression.  But in those days, Veronika just had to suffer.  It is a sad story, but we both followed it intently.  The time seemed to go by very fast.  Tatyana Samojlova as Veronika was superb.  I felt a lot of empathy for her character.  The character of Fyodor is one of a virtual saint, while Mark was portrayed as a virtual devil.  It's the Veronika character who is a more complicated figure: good and bad, in the more moralistic sense.  My wife and I would recommend it. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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