"The Cranes Are Flying" is a simple, but beautifully filmed and well-acted tale of love in Russia as World War II is about to begin. Veronica (Tatiana Samoilova) and Boris (Aleksei Batalov) are seriously in love with each other, but as War begins to break out, it looks as if Boris will be selected to join the battle. When the time comes, Boris shocks his wife-to-be and family by announcing that he, in fact, has chosen to go to war. Meanwhile, Boris's cousin Mark has always had his eye on Veronica and attempts to steal her away while his cousin is at war.
The film is a remarkable mixture of stunning visuals and strong performances. While the actors, especially the beautiful Samoilova, are highly involving, Russian cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky employs a wide range of camera styles to bring the viewer into the emotion and drama of the scene. According to the insert, the cinematographer had worked with handheld cameras when he was in the millitary and begain to use them more and more throughout his film career.
Criterion also releases the Russian WWII drama "Ballad of a Soldier" this week. Both films are powerful looks at lives affected by the horrors of war and both films offer inventive, beautiful cinematography and stellar performances.
VIDEO: Criterion presents "The Cranes Are Flying" in the film's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This new digital transfer was created on a high-definition Spirit Datacine from a new 35mm composite fine-grain print made by Mosfilm, Russia. As with fellow 4/30/02 Criterion release "Ballad of a Soldier", the MTI restoration system was used to remove most of the film's instances of dirt and other debris. As with "Ballad of a Soldier", which came out near the same time, the picture quality is remarkable. This black and white film is about 45-years-old, but still boasts rich detail and sharpness on this presentation.
Flaws were minimal and were less than I'd expected, considering the film's age. While the MTI system has cleaned up what looks to be the majority of the film's print flaws, there are still a few little specks and marks that have stuck around. Still, these really are too minor to distract. Edge enhancement isn't present and no pixelation was seen, either. The film's grain is light and really not even very noticable for most of the picture. While I'm sure the best materials don't always exist for an older film, it's really remarkable to watch Criterion efforts like this one and see how well a film that's this old can be cleaned up.
SOUND: The film's soundtrack is presented in restored Russian mono. For a film of its age, "Cranes are Flying" actually sounds very good. Dialogue is clear and not harsh or thin sounding, while sound effects and music remain crisp.
MENUS: The menus provide a moderate and appropriate amount of background animation.
EXTRAS: A liner essay is the only supplement.
Final Thoughts: Criterion's DVD is slight on extras, but really delivers where it counts, offering a stunning black and white presentation with good audio. Both "Ballad of a Soldier" and "Cranes Are Flying" are terrific examples of Russian cinema well-worth viewing.