66 posts categorized "War"

May 21, 2014


Cranes Are FlyingThe cranes of the film’s title refer to the large majestic fowl admired by a couple of Russian working class lovebirds named Veronika and Boris — played by Tatyana Samoylova and Aleksey Batalov — during the waning days of World War II. The cranes symbolize the lovers’ hope for skies filled with natural beauty rather than birds of war — namely German warplanes.

During its first act, Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov captures the couple’s exuberant affection for one another in stylized medium and close-up shots that emphasize Moscow’s urban architecture around them. That Kalatozov borrows formal compositional techniques from German Expressionist Cinema, for such a deliberate anti-war film, adds to its irrefutable power.


The lovers’ scenes together are given imperative compositions to emphasize the confining nature of outside forces that threaten the amorous pas de deux they share. In spite of the war that rages around them, Veronika and Boris seem to share a bright future together. When they return to their respective apartments after spending precious moments together, the lovers each throw themselves onto their beds in a similar fashion. Boris calls Veronika Squirrel, a term of endearment she insist he never stray from using. The audience swept up in the infectious romantic energy that Kalatozov creates onscreen.

The visual simplicity that Kalatozov uses to establish the story allows the filmmaker to gradually — painstakingly — develop the film’s thematic complexity toward a psychological and emotional crescendo that reveals key self-destructive elements of war.

Boris volunteers with a friend to go off to war. He doesn’t warn Veronika of his plans. Whether he does so to spare her some small amount of worry, or because he doesn’t value her opinion is hardly a matter of importance. Once on the battlefield, a fellow soldier’s insult, regarding the photo of Veronika that Boris carries with him, insures that the two men will share in a dangerous recognizance mission together.

Back at home Veronika staves off romantic advances from Boris’s insistent cousin Mark, a concert pianist given a deferral from conscription — supposedly due to his prodigious musical talent. A German bombing raid leaves Veronika homeless and her own family dead. Boris’s physician father Fyodor invites her to come live with his family even as they are forced to relocate east of Moscow.


Being in such close proximity to Mark, allows him to take advantage of Veronika when circumstance allows. Their forced marriage is a mockery that Veronika escapes while working as a nurse in a hospital with Fyodor. A pivotal sequence involving a wounded soldier left inconsolable after discovering that his girlfriend has married another man, speaks volumes about the judgmental attitudes that misrepresent Veronika’s character in the eyes of society. The tone-deaf speech that Fyodor publicly gives the soldier about the kind of woman who would do such a thing, stabs into Veronika’s heart with lasting damage.

“The Cranes Are Flying” benefits greatly from Tatyana Samoylova’s sturdy performance; her youthful beauty shifts from soft to hard over the course of the story. Veronika becomes a symbol of maturing femininity whose purpose is to promote peace, but the hypocrisy that drove her there remains with her.

Rated PG. 97 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 23, 2013


Come and SeeOne of the most emotionally challenging and brilliant films of all time, Stalingrad-born Elem Klimov's "Come and See" (1985) is an exemplar of late Soviet cinema that sets the standard for antiwar films with its undiluted expression of cinematic poetry in the service of an unbearably brutal anti-war narrative about 628 Belarusian villages burnt to the ground along with their inhabitants by German occupation forces during World War II.

Absolutely essential yet still obscure in the West, the film is a disorienting vision of a genocidal hell that challenges Hieronymus Bosch's most gruesome compositions. An electric, buzzing stench of death and social decay hangs over the picture's volley between neo-realistic, formal, and documentary styles that Klimov uses to convey as wide a range of wartime experiences as possible. The director takes the viewer on a quicksilver descent into the madness of war through the eyes of his 14-year-old peasant-protagonist, Florya. Alexei Kravchenko's extraordinary performance as the film's subjective guide encapsulates a lifetime of suffering over a period of a few vicious days of the Nazi invasion. 


Florya tries to join a ragtag troop of Soviet partisans camped in the middle of a forest, but gets abandoned alongside a teenaged girl named Glasha, who temporarily served as a lover to the resistance group’s leader. A Nazi bombing raid on the forest — one of the most evocative scenes in an unforgettable film — leaves Florya with a severe case of tinnitus. Klimov uses Florya's sensory deprivation with a twisted soundscape to bring us into Florya's agony and panic via a claustrophobic sonic space that conveys the audience's sense of being wounded. The next morning, Florya and Glasha frolic in the rain during a brief reverie where they forget the looming terror that awaits them. Over the muted sounds of sped up radio music, Glasha does a Charleston-styled flapper dance atop Florya's rain-soaked suitcase. There's a dreamlike quality to the couple's short-lived musical respite before an outlandish stork conveys an unnerving omen of unexplained incidents to follow. Wild animal life plays an important part of the image system filigree that Klimov uses to connect the story to its ecological foundation in the landscape of Belarus. 

Over the course of the film Florya transforms from a boy into a broken old man. The effects of war rip out his soul and leave behind a hollow shell.

When Klimov sat down to write the script with his collaborator Ales Adamovich, the intellectual director crafted an acutely personal story about a boy who goes to fight against Nazi troops occupying his native Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1943. "Come and See" is Klimov's paean to loss. It is his attempt to cinematically compartmentalize and contextualize his wartime experiences as a child fleeing the battle of Stalingrad in the company of his mother and younger brother, by raft across the Volga, as his city burned to the ground behind them.


Not Rated. 142 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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June 17, 2013


Michael Cimino is better remembered for bankrupting United Artists Studios with “Heaven’s Gate” (1980) than he is for making the highly-praised war picture that put him in a position to do such a thing in the first place. All of the excesses that Cimino was prone to as a director are on splendid display in “The Deer Hunter,” an antiwar film born of pure literary license. Expanded sequences of communal celebrations exemplifying social and character traits fill time in both movies, but what he was rewarded for in “The Deer Hunter” became a curse in “Heaven’s Gate.”


Based on a spec script about people who go to Las Vegas to play Russian roulette, Michael Cimino and two other writers (Michael Seeley and Deric Washburn) developed the screenplay [“The Man Who Came to Play”] into a modern-day parable about the cost of the Vietnam war on personal terms. It is rare that a more relevant metaphor has served as the foundation for a movie of any genre.

The story follows three Russian-American steel mill workers living in a close-knot community of Clairton, Pennsylvania in 1967. Mike (Robert De Niro), Steven (Jon Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) have all signed up for the army to go to Vietnam. Steven’s wedding in a Russian Orthodox cathedral contrasts with one last deer-hunting trip the friends take the following day. Mike’s solemn belief that a deer should be killed with a single shot delicately announces his place as the de facto leader of the group.

The second act plunges the audience into the middle of a disorienting aftermath of a battle in Vietnam’s jungle landscape. Our three soldiers are soon captured and reunited in a makeshift riverside prisoner of war camp where inmates are treated to a choice of death by Russian roulette or by being thrown into an underwater cage consumed with corpses and rats. Crazed by the insanity of their circumstance Mike and Nick execute a spur-of-the-moment violent escape that sends the three friends off on divergent paths toward a freedom that hardly matches the kind of liberty they formerly shared.


Each man loses a crucial part of his humanity. Steven is physically ruined. Upon his return, Steven’s bride goes mute as a result of his condition. Nick takes on a self-destructive sense of guilt for Steven’s injuries. Mike carries the responsibility for the trust that Nick put in him to not abandon him “over there if anything happens.” His emotional investment in the girl he once loved — played by Meryl Streep — pales by comparison with the obligation he has to Nick.

Upon returning home, Mike discovers that Nick has gone AWOL, and remains in Vietnam. Deer hunting no longer holds the appeal it once had for Mike, who allows his prey to escape rather than end the majestic animal's life. On the brink of the fall of Saigon, Mike returns to hunt for his friend whom he hopes to rescue. Nick’s heroin addiction has allowed him to forget everything about his past life to the point that he is incapable of experiencing the present. Like America itself, these Americans are wrecked.


Rated R. 182 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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