1. The Cranes are Flying (1957) is Soviet Union film directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. It spans just before WWII to the end of the war. Veronika and Boris are a young couple in love, but soon Boris enlists in the army leaving Veronika behind to wait for him. The scene where Boris must leave for war and Veronika can't catch up to him to stay good-bye is heartbreaking. The crowds of people and frantic yelling are filmed to give the whole scope of the frantic situation. The rest of the film focuses mostly on Veronika's side of the story, wondering whether or not Boris made it through the war since no news comes to Veronika or Boris' family.
Much of the film centers around Veronika's relationship with Mark, Boris' cousin. Mark has been in love with Veronika for a long time, but never did anything about it because of Boris. But given Boris' plea to look out for her and also his exemption from the war because of his piano talent, Mark spends a lot of time with Veronika, eventually whittling down her will to resist him.
The scene where Veronika finally gives into Mark is powerful and highly stylized, allowing the music, ambient noise, and physical environment to reflect both characters' emotions:
Through the film we see Veronika grow up. Her dreams have been shattered and must learn what she cares about in life, whether or not Boris makes it. Ultimately, it seems her answer is reaching out and caring for other people, people who aren't selfish and who love their country.
What really captured my attention in this film was scenes like Veronika giving into Mark. I enjoy a film that utilizes all the facets of film to reemphasize a theme or internal thoughts/emotions. It can sometimes be cheesy, but in this case I found it to be effective, bringing life into characters that, for the most part, remain pretty enigmatic in the face. I love seeing styles of film making that differ from the Hollywood norm and this movie supplies that. What an intense drama.
2. I finally saw Atonement (2007) based on the novel by Ian McEwan. I had read the book previously and found Joe Wright's tone to match that of the book*. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking, and absolutely horror of a love story. Robbie and Cecilia are old acquaintances who finally realize/take action on their love for each other one hot afternoon. Unfortunately, Cecilia's little sister Briony sees them interact in ways she doesn't understand and assumes the worst. Misunderstandings ensue, lovers are separated, and redemption is sought.
Much like the novel, the film is made up of gorgeous moments more than a cohesive narrative, and it works. Really, this film is--to quote an old roommate--an eye orgasm. Through rich colors, creative use of focus, and editing, Wright translates McEwan's descriptions well. Here's an example of the visuals at work creating subtle character development:
Despite myself, I was moved to tears**. Film, more so than prose, has that effect on me, especially is there is a lovely score. For the most part, Dario Marianelli's compositions are subtle, but at opportune moments swell into grandeur, effecting me more than it should. At the end of the day, Atonement is a lovely film that wants to be more epic and sweeping than it is, but it succeeds at being an adaptation of very good novel by capturing its tone and tangible descriptions.
*Unlike a certain Jane Austen masterpiece--I will never let that go.
**I swear I'm not usually a sap.