Monday, April 03, 2006

The Cranes Are Flying

This is a movie you're unlikely to find at the local Blockbuster, but the Grand Rapids Public Library has come through for me again. It's a Russian film set during WWII, the tragic love story of Boris and Veronica. Made shortly after the death of Stalin in a newly liberalized film climate, it is regarded as a touchstone work of Russian cinema.

The team behind this film eventually went on to make I Am Cuba, which is famous for its dazzling camerawork. The seeds of that film's greatness can be seen in this earlier work. Director Mikheil Kalatozishvili and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky were doing nothing if not pushing the filmmaking envelope. Each scene is beautifully lighted, often hitting the perfect middle between stylistic accent and naturalism (particularly on closeups). The strikingly unorthodox angles and technically marvelous camera moves inspire awe. As the lens tracks Boris up the winding staircase near the beginning of the film, the viewer is stunned, perhaps even to distraction, wondering "How'd they do that?" Later Veronica rushes deliriously up the same staircase, this time through flames, immediately after the building has been firebombed. Urusevsky achieves famously mind-bending results by moving the camera on a vertical plane, often finishing his impossible moves close up on the actor's expression in deftly kept focus. In this film, he never lets the camera sit still for long.

All this is not to detract, however, from the excellent performances of the entire cast, which are tastefully restrained compared to the dazzling backdrops and camera wizardry. Tatyana Samojlova as Veronica is a softly stunning brunette who reminded me of Bjork, actually, but the real stars of this picture are the people behind the lens.

Before I make my criticism of this film, I'll say that I highly recommend it, and anyone with more than a passing interest in filmmaking would be rewarded by going out of their way for this picture. That noted, I gotta say these guys go a little overboard. I'm not convinced that every spectacular camera elevation is necessary, and worst of all, the moves at times take the attention away from the story. In that sense, this is at times what my old bandmates and I used to call "wanking". The filmmakers struck a much more elegant balance seven years later in I Am Cuba, which still includes the most vertigo-inducing, incredibly uncut shot I have seen in a film. But by the time the credits role on Cranes, the performances have regained the spotlight, a pleasing emotional catharsis has been achieved, and all excess is forgiven.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey we just got Netflix, so anytime you want to come over nad watch a moive that is cool by me!

2:15 PM  
Blogger J.Knecht said...

Knock Knock

"Yes? Can I help you?"

"Hi, I'm Joe. Did you invite me over for netflix night?"


"Did you write me an anonymous invitation to come over and watch movies?"

"Sir, you're scaring my children. If you don't leave immediately I will call the police."

*walking to next house*

Knock Knock

"Yes? Can I help you?"

11:56 PM  

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