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Genre: Silent Drama (Soviet Union)
Starring: Stepan Shkurat, Semyon Svashenko
Directed By: Aleksandr Dovzhenko (Arsenal)
Overview: Also known as Zemlya, this is the simple tale of Ukrainian farmers doing their part to bring communism to their rich earth. In this 'poetic film', we explore Vasili as he buys a tractor for the poor community farms surrounding the richer of the kulaks class farms.
As one such as myself, who has a passable knowledge in communism, its early beginnings, and its real-life applications, Earth is a fantastic eye opener of a political movement. As is often the case with Soviet propagandist film, you either had better know you're stuff going in or look it up once you leave, because Earth, like many other similar films, presumes you understand the context. Given this was made for Soviet audiences of the 30s, well, that would stand to reason. I'm fairly sure they wouldn't need too much back story, even if they were peasants... especially if they were peasants.
Having since looked up what a kulak was and learning that they were the richer, more land-owning people who hired farmhands rather than doing the work themselves, I get Earth now.
I guess what I'm getting at is that I didn't need a 75-minute montage piece about farmers buying a tractor to get that message through to me. Yes, I very much enjoyed the long montage where farmers were reaping wheat and making bread out of it. The images and the editing were truly spectacular and would impress many a viewer. The rest of the film however, left little else in the way of entertainment.
The translated dialogue, with such memorable lines as "Yep, I'm going to die now," simply served to make the early Russian communists sound like 1890s Wild West cowboys. Another frustrating constant in this silent film were the long scenes that focused tirelessly on speaking. There were no intertitles mind you, since these moments were simply representative of a conversation we understood the gist of, yet we're forced to watch minute after minute of lips moving.
Overall Rating: 54% (I'd Rather Watch Grass Grow)
When I saw this director's Arsenal, I was equally as unimpressed. Sadly I find Aleksandr Dovzhenko to pale in comparison to other Soviet geniuses of the montage as the very recommendable Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov or Vsevolod Pudovkin. Propaganda film most definitely has its place in historical context but so does enjoying a film for the sake of entertainment. Yes, Earth is about more than getting a tractor to make life easier. It's about life, death, jealously, turning the tides on an oppressive system and conquering a dark time of the soul, all presented as a montage, coined as an inspirational 'epic poem'...
But we weary of films that declare themselves as being 'simple' plots. That probably means 'boring', thin tales that run on longer than they need to.