Friday, November 28, 2014

The Cranes Are Flying (1957)

Screen shot from Criterion DVD
WHO: Mikhail Kalatozov directed this.

WHAT: The Palme d'Or-winning film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958, and the only film from the Soviet Union to ever have won that festival's top prize, unless you count the festival's unusual 2nd year (1946) when eleven films (including Fridrikh Ermler's The Turning Point) shared what was then called the "Grand Prize". The Cranes Are Flying is a technical tour-de-force, especially the bravura cinematography from Sergey Urusevsky, but it's also an emotional powerhouse, its story of young lovers separated by World War II given great resonance through the performances of Aleksey Batalov (who later starred in Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears) and Tatiana Samoilova (who later played Aleksandr Zarkhi's Anna Karenina, and who passed away earlier this year) as the couple asunder.  

WHERE/WHEN: 5:30 today only at the Pacific Film Archive

WHY: Mikhail Kalatozov is one of my favorite filmmakers that I know almost nothing about. I've only seen four of his films, each of them masterpieces, and I know very little of his biography other than that he was born in Tbilisi, Georgia and got his start making silent films in that then-Soviet republic (such as Salt For Svanetia). His follow-up The Nail in the Boot got him in trouble with Moscow authorities, and his career was severely hindered for the next nineteen years (in which he made only three films) but that he made a resurgence in the 1950s, and that The Cranes Are Flying and its follow-up The Letter Never Sent (which I've never seen although it is available on a Criterion DVD) are considered quintessential films of the Khrushchev "thaw" era.  In 1964 he made the phenomenal I Am Cuba, which was denounced in both Cuba and the U.S.S.R. and unseen by the international general public until 1992 when it was presented by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola to agog audiences. By then Kalatozov had been dead nearly twenty years, his final film being a 1969 international co-production starring Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale and Peter Finch called The Red Tent (another I have not seen).

The four Kalatozov films I'd seen before all screen in an 8-day period at the Pacific Film Archive this week as part of its extended focus on Georgian filmmaking. I unfortunately missed Salt For Svanetia and The Nail In The Boot last Saturday, triply unfortunate because the latter screened with a new-ish documentary on its director called Hurricane Kalatozov. This evening The Cranes Are Flying screens and tomorrow it's I Am Cuba. I was hoping The Letter Never Sent or others of his films might turn up in the next installment of this Georgian focus when it was announced online this week, but I'll have to wait to see if they turn up in the March-April conclusion to the series. Instead, the January and February installments of the series will spotlight the most famous living filmmaking son of Georgia, Otar Iosseliani, one of its most prominent female directors Lana Gogoberidze (who will be at the PFA in person with her films), and a few other odds and ends including reprises of films that particularly impressed PFA-diehards this fall, The White Caravan and Repentance.

The PFA's January-February 2015 schedule also includes the next (last?) installment of the archive's extensive Jean-Luc Godard series, featuring films from the 1990s up until 2010's Film Socialisme. I confirmed with curator Kathy Geritz that the PFA, like most local not-for-profit venues, does not have the technical capability to show Godard's 2 most recent films, which utilize (and indeed push the boundaries of) modern 3D technology. So unless someone brings it to the Castro, the Kabuki, or a link in the Landmark or Camera chains (all of which seem less-than-probable to me), Frisco Bay Godard fans will have to hope they can make it to one of the Rafael Film Center's dwindling screenings if they want to see his latest game-changer Goodbye To Language. Meanwhile there are still five more 35mm prints of Godard films (and a digitally-presented short film called Origins of the 21st Century) to play at the PFA in 2014, including Keep Your Right Up tonight after Cranes Are Flying and Hail Mary tomorrow after I Am Cuba.

Other PFA programs coming in the first months of 2015 include a Billy Wilder series featuring rare 35mm prints of Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend and four of his lesser-seen films, as well as digital presentations of a half-dozen of his most famous directorial efforts plus Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka, which he wrote the screenplay for. The African Film Festival returns with a special focus on female filmmakers, including two programs devoted to rarities by Sarah Moldoror, the pioneering classmate of Ousmane Sembène who also worked on The Battle of Algiers before starting her own career as a director. In a separate but related mini-series Mati Diop, the niece of another Senegalese master director Djibril Diop Mambéty, will be on hand to present screenings of Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum, which she gave an indelible acting performance in, as well as several of the films she's recently directed. Eric Baudelaire will appear in person to discuss and screen his films.

The first part of the Spring semester's Documentary Voices program will include films by Robert Flaherty, Frederick Wiseman, and the late Harun Farocki. As usual in odd-numbered years, the PFA will host screenings as part of the third International Berkeley Conference on Film and Media, this time collecting silent film scholars to discuss the serial form in silent cinema and as it has captured our attention in the modern era. I can't wait for the screenings of Hollis Frampton's entire Hapax Legomena cycle and of Hazards Of Helen helmer J. P. McGowan's last silent serial The Chinatown Mystery, starring and co-written by John Ford's brother Francis. Finally, Emily Carpenter's Film 50 class, which as usual has a few spaces available to members of the public, involves enough intriguing and rare 35mm screenings that any cinephile with Wednesday afternoons free will want to secure their spots as soon as tickets become available next month.

HOW:  The Cranes Are Flying screens from a 35mm print.

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