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Companion Pieces with Thomas Jane - Notes


As soon as we'd finished our discussion about The Cranes Are Flying and Come and See, I sent him a follow-up email; appreciation for his time... and effort. And my god, did he put the work in...

“Thanks! That was super fun; I loved having to think about these films and articulate why I think they are so powerful and relevant. Here’s my notes I made while rewatching both films for our talk. I was going to delete, but then I thought what the heck, maybe you can use a bit of it as you see fit.


Not just “a bit”. What wasn't incorporated into the text, we've left for you all to read and lend more insight into these incredible examples of cinema.

The Cranes Are Flying (1957)

Director: Mikhail Kalatozov

Cinematographer: Sergey Urusevskiy


1. We had not seen cinematography like this before; it was revolutionary. Sergey Urusevskiy also shot I Am Cuba with Kalatozov.

2. The film opens to gay music with gorgeous, black-and-white images of our young couple, Veronika and Boris, dancing along a canal at Sunset. They stop to watch a formation of cranes flying overhead. Veronika recites a poem about the cranes, then a street cleaner drives by and drenches the couple with water. Boris says, “That’s what you get — you and your cranes.” And they continue on, dancing through the city streets of Moscow(?)

3. The low angles, the ethereal, pinpoint perfect lighting capture a look like no other. It’s at once hyper-romantic yet realistic; a Russian form of magical realism that captures the deep and timeless Young Love that we’ve all felt at one time or another.

4. Right off the bat we see Boris chase his girl up the stairs while the camera is swirling up the stairs with him — an exceptional crane shot, especially for 1957 — almost an inside joke for the filmmakers.

5. The opening scenes are full of humor as the couple, sneak back to their individual homes — both leaping into their beds at daybreak, having spent the whole night together.

6. When Boris is woken up later that day, it’s to his brother shouting, “Boris! Its war! You hear me? It’s war!”

7. The next time we see the city streets by the canal, they are covered in the huge iron X’s meant to stop tanks. But the young couple remain unaffected, laughing and teasing each other as they hang blankets in the windows for the citywide blackouts, meant to obscure the bombing raids yet to come.

8. Boris says he doesn’t want to wait to be drafted — he wants to enlist — and Veronika says: “You’ll do no such thing!” She says that he’ll be spared the draft because he’s smart. Boris says: “Are you saying that only fools will fight?

9. What Veronika doesn’t know is that Boris has already enlisted along with his friends at the factory. She says, “What about me? What will I do?”

10. Boris is home, packing. His family is freaking out about Boris enlisting. His father demands everyone sit and have a drink to send his son off to a war he doesn’t believe in.

11. The second movement (or sequence) of the film begins with rain and empty streets, as we follow Veronika who waits desperately for any word or news of Boris, who is now at the front. She gets a job at a munitions factory with other young women in similar positions. They deal with air raids and bombings and hide out in the Underground Railroad stations, just as they were doing in London and Paris and every other European city.

12. We follow Veronika — alone now — running through the rubble of a bombed-out city in flames. In a mirror of the early scene with Boris, she runs up a flight of stairs; but the building is in ruins, on fire, falling apart behind her. A fireman chases after her and we realize it was her building: her family’s apartment has been bombed to smithereens, her family dead.

13. This monologue sums it all up: “Time will pass towns and villages will be rebuilt. Our wounds will heal. But our fierce hatred of war will never diminish! We share the grief of those who cannot meet their loved ones today and will do everything we can to ensure that sweethearts are never again parted by war… we have triumphed not to destroy But to build a new life.”

14. Veronika has brought flowers for Boris, but realizing he is gone, she starts handing them out to other soldiers and happy reunited couples.


Come and See (1985)

Director: Elem Klimov

Cinematographer: Aleksey Rodionov


1. Klemov also directed a version of Rasputin in 1981.

2. It is worth adding that The Ascent from 1977 would make a perfect triple bill. The film was directed by Larisa Shepitko who was Klimov’s wife. Sadly, passed away two years later.

3. Belarus, 1943. Young Flyora, the only son of an impoverished peasant family, wants to take up arms and do his part in defending the homeland from the invading Nazis. While his mother cries, the young teenager is recruited into a local ragtag unit of battle-hardened partisans, as an all-out German invasion of Belarus has already begun.

4. The film opens on the back of a Russian peasant calling out to a group of bots hiding in the bushes. As he slowly turns around he is revealed to be face-hardened by time and hard living. It’s one of the great opening shots in cinema and serves as a foreshadowing of the horror to come.

5. The peasant rides off, and a kid reveals himself walking out of the dunes. He is playing war games with his pals, pretending to be a German soldier, and he speaks with the gruff authority of a German demon. The kids are digging up rifles out of the sand where partisans have hid them from the Germans.


6. Even though these kids are playing war, they are full of youthful exuberance and Rosie cheeks. They are children playing children’s games lost in the ecstasy of make-believe. But with German planes circling overhead and the way Klimov films the boy’s strenuous rifle digging and hiding from the German planes - this is more than just kids playing war.


7. The use of steady cam in this film rivals Stanley Kubrick’s technique. But it is the Director’s periodic use of close-ups that are most penetrating and leave an impression that eats into you. The characters seem to gaze into your soul from a timeless place where they are trapped forever. This is a movie that you can’t unsee. It involves the utter corruption of a child’s soul by the hell, the surreal hell of war.


8. It boasts some innovative sound design. Is this the first use of tinnitus after a bomb?


9. The Russians endured some of the hardest, most tragic invasions of World War II by the Germans. Peasants and farmers were forced to fight with every thing they had to every last man to repel Hitler’s army and they did it. They won… and they are rarely given credit for beating the Nazis and winning World War II.


10. The famous photo of the victors is the black-and-white picture of Eisenhower, Churchill… and, in the middle, is Joseph Stalin. The reason the Russians aren’t given credit for winning World War II is because Joseph Stalin was nearly Hitler’s equal in his reign of terror; his execution of millions and the contemptible destruction of a nation.


11. Aleksei Kravchenko, 14 at the start of production, plays Florya, a green recruit to a ragtag bunch of rural Soviet partisans. The film isn’t so much about combat as suffering. Nazi death squads scorch the earth.  Flyora is essentially on his own for half the movie.


12. After being recruited by the band of partisans, Flyora is forced to give up his good new boots to a hardened soldier, who gives him his old boots, wet and falling apart.


13. They try to find their way back to Florya‘s family cabin, but they find it abandoned and piles of dead peasants lined up against the back of the cabin. There follows a surreal sequence of them slogging through a pit of black mud, perhaps the first truly surreal sequence of the film. Glasha breaks down and screams, “They’re gone! they’re dead! They’re all dead!” While face-to-face with Flyora, whose anguish matches her own. What sounds like screaming cranes can be heard on the soundtrack.


14. A partisan finds the couple and takes them into the forest where they meet what looks like hundreds of displaced peasants. In the center of the group is a man who has been terribly burnt. He says that he was covered in petrol and lit on fire. “Don’t dig.” He continues to say. “I told you not to dig,” while a group of old peasant women wail and mourn. This is the first horror of conflict that Flyora encounters in his journey through the hell of war.


15. There follows a sequence where Flyora hooks up with a small band of lunatic partisans, carrying an effigy of Hitler over tundra and through the forest and here is where I almost turned the movie off. They try to steal a cow. The cow is killed by tracer fire. Flyora is rescued by a peasant who saves him from German soldiers by hiding his uniform and gun under a bale of hay. And because I didn’t hide — because I continued to watch this film — I have in some inexplicable way been altered forever. I was not the same person that decided to sit down and watch Come and See.


16. The realism of the film is startling. And within that realism are utterly surrealistic scenes of war and death. Russian literature and art and film is marked by this deeply humanistic angle; while American war films are all about heroism and solidarity; band of Brothers-type stuff. The Russians seem to want to get to the heart of the matter and bring the war home — where the heart lives. They sing about the mothers and lovers and sons and daughters torn apart by the savagery of war.


17. The criterion notes state that the Director Klimov feared not for the boys safety — but his sanity. We know that the actor playing Glasha, Olga Mironova, never acted again.


18. Come and See was based on the book Khatyn, cowritten by an ex-partisan named Ales Adamovich who also cowrote the screenplay with Klimov.


19. The Nazi collaborators persecuting the Belorussians in Come and See are identified as neighboring Ukrainians.


20. The film was widely viewed in Russia: twenty-nine million cinema tickets were sold.


21. Near the end of the film, a masterfully edited montage of newsreel footage plays out backwards as Florya repeatedly fires his rifle into a framed photographic portrait of the Führer that is lying abandoned beside him in a puddle. In the reel we watch Hitler age backwards, until we see him as a boy in Munich.


22. Klimov lived until 2003, but Come and See was his last film.


23. Everything that is seen in the film is based on events that really happened; that Klimov himself had been a witness as a child, in 1942, with the catastrophic destruction of Stalingrad. A title card at the end of the film says that “Six hundred twenty-eight villages were deliberately razed to the ground, their inhabitants massacred.”

— Thomas Jane, June 22, 2024

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