When the coronavirus quarantine started I wrote a post about having a complicated relationship with the news, feeling like it was stressing me out more than it was informing me but feeling at the same time like it was everybody’s responsibility to stay informed.
What it came down to was the fact that the news, though definitely at least kinda toxic, does give us a feeling participation. It lets us feel proactive. And it’s really helpful to feel proactive when you’re subject to some tide of massive crisis in which you can’t really make a dent of differenc,e where all you can do is sit at home and wait for it to pass.
The Cranes are Flying, a World War Two movie out of Russia, has a few strong scenes of war, of raids, of crowds in chaos—but it’s mostly a portrait of domestic everyday Russian life under the cloud of war, of this unfathomably huge global event, it’s happening everywhere, the fate of the crivilized world “hangs in the balance,” as it were…but your daily life doesn’t look all that different. And yes, everybody is sleepless and pancked with worry about their loved ones battling overseas, but there are also chores to be tended here. Mundane little tasks that feels o fucking silly and inconsequential in light of everything that’s going on globally—but they do have to be done.
And as for the war? Nothing you can do about it.
Another of these stories about how history happens to us.
The Cranes are Flying captures the weight of that burden with a poignant feeling of claustrophobia, of desertion, and of grayness. The movie starts off with a sweet portrait of urgent young love between Boris and Veronika before Boris heads out to fight in the war. The broad strokes are that Veronika’s parents die in an air raid and so she goes to live with Boris’s parents. Her “in-laws.” Boris, meanwhile, dies in battle. He’s listed as missing, they don’t know for sure that he’s dead, but probably figure as much. Boris’s cousin then rapes Veronika, and they end up getting married. Boris’s parents resent her for what seems like a betrayal, but still welcome her as family…
There’s light at the end of it, but the whole thing gets pretty dark and heavy, both in its subject matter and in its look.
Cranes is the first movie in a while that could probably be grouped (with lots of asterisks) among the silent expressionist films fo the 1910s and ‘20s. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, for instance, or Dr. Mabuse, or The Last Laugh—cameras that used elaborate sweeps of the camera, suggestive angles, and impossible shadows to communicate things about the characters’ emotions. It’s ballsy stuff because, even in the 1950s, it probably seemed a little maudlin to spin your camera around to symbolize disorientation, or to feverishly chase two lovers as they frolic up a staircase, making even the viewer dizzy with their dizzy young love.
I’m not gonna say I particularly enjoyed this, but it’s an interesting portrait of an interesting subject and it flexes some real artistry behind the camera. I’d recommend it if the topic interests you.