EARTH (ZEMLYA) (director/writer: Alexander Dovzhenko; cinematographer: Danylo Demutsky; editor: Alexander Dovzhenko; cast: Semyon Swashenko (Vasili ‘Basil’ Opanas), S. Shkurat (Opanas), P. Masokha (Khoma), Yuliya Solntseva (Vasili’s sister), Yelena Maksimova (Natalya, Vasili’s fiancee ), Nikolai Nademsky (Semyon ‘Simon’ Opanas), Ivan Franko (Arkhip Whitehorse, Khoma’s father), Vladimir Mikhajlov (Village priest); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; Kino Video; 1930-silent-USSR-in Russian with English subtitles)
“A unique political poem.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Alexander Dovzhenko (“Ivan”/”Diplomatic Pouch“/”Shchors”)directs in a splashy personal way this intriguingSoviet propaganda film, the last leg of his trilogy (Zvenigora-1928 & Arsenal-1929). Earth is a tribute to Dovzhenko’s heritage as a peasant of the Ukraine, where the jubilant peasants are shown to be at one with the rich earth. It tells about a collective farm in the Ukraine purchasing a tractor, something which enthuses the peasants with a new hope for the future and makes them more modern. The film points out that it was in the Ukraine where collective farming was first advanced in the Soviet Union.
The internationally honored film-maker was born to illiterate peasants and became a rural village schoolteacher. He later studied economics during the Russian Revolution and became a Soviet diplomatic before reinventing himself as a serious film-maker in 1926.
Earth is a classic celebrated for its lyrical homage to the wonders of nature and of Dovzhenko’s raw film techniques of loading up the film with close-ups of peasants. The director’s signature shot is of a field of sunflowers seemingly waving goodbye to the old ways of farming and saluting a martyred dead young peasant (Semyon Swashenko) being carried to the grave by mourners after shot by a crazed wealthy landowner because his tractor had crossed into his land. The heroic collective farm must face the opposition of the rich landowners, and must continue to press on to make the collective work after the village leader has been buried in a ceremony that was not Christian. The murderous act unites the peasants even more, and the film is turned into a unique political poem and one that is aesthetically beautiful to behold.
It was influential in changing the way films were made at the time, and is still recognized by many film critics to be on their list of best films ever. The use of tractors instead of animals to plow the fields is used to show the transformation of Soviet society into modern times and even the playing field for all classes. My favorite oddball shot, one censored by the Soviets, in this revolt of the peasants film, is of a peasant pissing in the radiator of the new tractor so it can move again when it ran out of water.
REVIEWED ON 2/21/2012 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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