A Movie for the People

 

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In the decade following the end of World War II, Soviet cinema pertaining to the conflict did little to address the personal damages and emotions felt by the common citizen. While some films simply portrayed a world where the conflict seemingly never happened, there were of course notable films covering the Soviet Union’s victory in the struggle of “The Great Patriotic War”. Aside from being relatively rare occurrences, these films tended to focus on the role of the Soviet leadership during the war rather than the harsh reality faced by the common people who fought and endured throughout the darkest days of WWII.

This trend continued until 1955, with the release of the film The Soldier Ivan Brovkin. The movie depicts a story all too familiar to many people of the Soviet Union, a young man of simple rural upbringing who is drafted into service for the Red Army. While the values portrayed in the movie were certainly relatable to many, the film was set in peacetime and showed no actual images of warfare. It wasn’t until 1957 that Soviet audiences would witness a film that would revisit the emotions felt during the turbulent early periods of the war, immortalized on the big screen in director Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying.

The Cranes Are Flying took a different direction than all the Soviet war films that preceded it, focusing not on the Soviet leadership and the glory of the victory over the Germans, bur rather the cruelties and suffering of the war faced by millions. The movie also has a female main star, representing the hardships of Soviet women during the period. The plot follows the story of Veronika, a woman whose boyfriend, Boris, has answered the patriotic call to war as the Germans begin Operation Barbarossa and invade the Soviet Union.

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A particularly powerful scene depicts the moment where Boris is preparing to be marched off to the front, anxiously waiting for Veronika to find him. She arrives as the crowds flock around the departing column of new troops. She manages to spot him while desperately searching down the formation, repeatedly calling to him. In the chaotic, deafening crowd, Boris doesn’t hear her, and they fail to see each other for what would have been a final goodbye. While retreating back to Moscow in the face of the Nazi Blitzkrieg, Boris is killed saving a fellow soldier. It is a truly heartbreaking moment; Boris is mistakenly listed as MIA, leaving Veronika clinging to hope as she endures even more tragedies. Her parents are presumably killed, and then a scene alludes to her being raped by a man named Mark, the nephew of Boris’s father who has long pursued her. In shame, she marries him. Eventually she is freed from the marriage, only to find out once and for all that Boris has indeed been killed. The movie closes having depicted the horrible realities faced by so many Soviet women, as well as the sacrifice made by almost 9 million Red Army soldiers who lost their lives.

The film went on to win the highest award at the Cannes Film Festival, the only Soviet film to win the award. The powerful emotions in The Cranes Are Flying remain timeless as they are felt in every war; the horrible feeling of being separated from a loved one while they march off into combat, and the terrible news of learning that they have fallen in battle. Should you be interested in viewing this great piece of Soviet post-war cinema, it can be found posted below.

 

Sources: James von Geldern. War Films – 17 Moments in Soviet History. Soviethistory.msu.edu.

 

The Cranes Are Flying, parts I and II:

 

Kursk: Turning Point of the Eastern Front

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When picking a turning point on the Eastern Front of World World II, many think of the bloody Battle of Stalingrad. Stalingrad was of course a major upset for the Germans, and the continued Soviet offensive at one point threatened to destroy all of Army Group South. However, the Germans counterattacked and broke the Soviet offensive, and it appeared that they still maintained an advantage in operational strength. There was now a large Soviet salient located at Kursk, and the Nazis planned an attack to attempt to pinch off and trap the Red Army forces there.

Hitler was nervous about attacking the salient, but under the pressure from his top generals he eventually agreed. He delayed the attack by a few months in order to allow new tanks to reach the front, but this only gave the Soviets even more time to dig themselves in. German intelligence suggested that at this point, the Red Army forces in the area were growing exhausted, low on supplies, and increasingly desperate. Unfortunately for the Germans, their intelligence on the Soviet position at Kursk had been compromised by an elaborate Soviet misinformation and counter-intelligence plan. The Germans knew it had been heavily mined and reinforced, but the extent to which the Soviet’s had fortified Kursk was lost on them. Kursk was now home to more anti-tank firepower than had ever been emplaced in a single location.

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Kursk ended in a decisive Soviet victory. German efforts in the north were halted almost immediately as the attack began. The offensive in the south fared slightly better in the beginning, but eventually the massive amount of Soviet defensive preparations bogged down the advance. Kursk became the largest tank battle in history, a grinding engagement of attrition that the Germans could ill afford. In the skies, the German Luftwaffe found itself outnumbered and increasingly overwhelmed. A week into fighting, on July 12th, Hitler scrapped the operation. Allied forces led by the Americans had invaded Sicily, and the entire Italian peninsula was now in jeopardy, pulling Hitler’s attention back to the west.

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The repercussions of Kursk were massive. Unlike the Germans, the Soviets were rolling out massive numbers of tanks from their factories, especially the now proven T-34. Their armored divisions quickly replaced their losses. Operational initiative on the Eastern Front now lay securely with the Soviets. It is difficult to determine what role Hitler’s delay on the operation had on its outcome, as well as the impact of the Soviet deceptions regarding intelligence during the planning process. What remains certain is that Kursk was a pivotal turning point in the war. Even though the Hitler withdrew partly due to the situation in Sicily, by that time his forces in Kursk were already caught in the jaws of defeat. From this point forward, the Red Army opened the flood gates, rapidly advancing towards the German heartland.

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