Zemlya (1930) Poster


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An Unusual & Memorable Film
Snow Leopard5 March 2004
What an unusual and memorable film this is, almost more like a poem or an impressionist painting than a movie. It's filled with activity and images that push the actual story into the background. Sometimes the characters overreact to events in a highly exaggerated fashion, while at other times they barely respond to what happens - yet it seems both real and believable. The movie is probably not quite as great as some would have it, but it has an unusual appeal that makes you want to watch it (or, perhaps, experience it) over again.

The scenes often have little connection with one another, and it's clear that the plot is not meant to be the main emphasis. On the surface, the story is about the collective farm, their hopes of getting new machinery, and their rivalry with the independent landowners. But it's intended to be something more subtle and worthwhile than a political message. The themes and images involving the characters and, especially, the "Earth" itself, are more vivid than the slight story-line.

To be sure, the collectivist perspective from which the film was made is rather obvious. But that does not detract from this unusual achievement. And while it would not work as light or casual entertainment, it is well worth watching, and it's a movie you won't forget afterwards.
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True communist poetry.
miloc7 March 2006
From its opening, with an elderly man dying surrounded by impassive adults and obliviously playing children, to its wildly emotional finale, this breathtaking silent work transcends its politics and functions as poetry. It's unmistakeably Soviet -- the messianic fervor of the scene in which the farming community greets the arrival of a tractor would seem like parody if it weren't for Dovzhenko's extraordinary sense of lyricism. Using repeated shots of the expectant farmers crying out "It's coming!" intercut with an empty horizon, he builds the moment so completely that you're excited in spite of yourself; you totally believe in that tractor. (As one of the "rich farmers" says, shellshocked by this threat to their future, "It's a fact. It's here.")

To call the film propaganda, while true, seems rather beside the point. Aren't all films? Dovzhenko's manipulations are certainly no less devious than those of western film. Switch the communist message to a patriotic or even capitalist one, and the setting to the World War II Pacific or the old west or wherever you choose and it's no different than, say, "Shane" or "Gone With the Wind" or "The Passion of the Christ" -- just much, much better.

The story, told in rich montages of motionless figures, fruit, machinery, skies, rippling fields, and above all faces, weaves its "official" message about collective farms and private property with larger themes of religion, the generation gap, and the cycle of life: the Earth that gives life takes it away. A group of children giggle and spy on an old man listening at his friend's grave for a last message; a man sits up on his deathbed to eat a last sweet pear; a serious young radical, alone, gives himself up to a joyful moonlit dance before falling into the dirt. Dovzhenko's approach has less to do with narrative than with creating visual textures; it looks as though Terrence Malick watched this more than a few times before making "Days of Heaven." Dovzhenko's discontinuities and repetitions can be initially bewildering, but they pack a concrete wallop. The images accumulate and crystallize, carrying greater and greater weight, and, as an aging farmer becomes suddenly radicalized by tragedy, the direct shots of his face, hardening in bewilderment and outrage, take on a thunderous power.
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Dovzhenko's masterpiece.
Rigor9 May 1999
This great masterpiece of Soviet cinema has images so powerful and an editing technique so bold that at times the narrative is transcended. By this I mean that the film goes beyond it's original intention of arguing for changes from individualistic to more technologized and collective agricultural strategies and becomes a kind of realization of what a "liberated" agricultural zone would really look and feel like. This is a film ripe with the excitement of the creation of a new art to match a hopeful new world. It hardly needs to be mentioned that Stalinsit forces decried the final results of this masterpiece; calling it decadent and stylistically elitist. In actuality the film is too Marxist (I would go so far as to say too Leninist) for Stalinism. The film respects the ability of the viewer (and the viewers were assumed to be proletariat working class and agricultural workers) to grapple with rigorous ideas and images and to function outside of the narrative frame of individualistic melodrama. Like many early Soviet films this work seems not only ahead of its time, but, actually ahead of ours.
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zolaaar15 June 2008
Dovzhenko was a 'modernist' who drew deepest inspiration from traditional arts. His ode to the beginning of the collectivization is actually an orgy of intoxicant images of bulging clouds, waving wheat fields, ripening fruits and pelting horses.

The arrival of a tractor is hailed by the farmers. They begin to believe that an improved life has started, but Kulaks murder the young leader of the village party committee. This only encourages the village inhabitants in their resoluteness. In a sublime finale sequence, Dovzhenko unites birth, death, harvest, technical progress and solidarity, when the dead are returned to Earth that he loved so much.

No abstract summary can do justice to the extraordinary sensualism of this remarkable film. Whoever searches for the roots of Andrei Tarkovsky's cinema has to start with "Zemlya".
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Can Art Transcend Propaganda?
bobdunn95 August 2006
Like 'The Birth of a Nation' or 'The Triumph of the Will', 'Earth' is a brilliant, groundbreaking film even if morally despicable. And in retrospect of what happened after its release, Stalin's liquidation of millions of Kulaks, its hard not to compare Dovzhenko's Marxism to Reifenstahl's fascism or Griffith's racism. Apologists for all of these filmmakers tell us to 'ignore the story' or 'ignore the propaganda'. Even the Kino DVD introduction instructs us to not take the film literally.

Perhaps instead of asking, 'Can propaganda be art?' the better question is , 'Can art transcend propaganda.' In 'Earth', I think Dovzhenko partially succeeds. The lyrical cycles of birth and death on the Ukrainian steppe are told with visual poetry. In fact, as the film goes on Dovzhenko obviously becomes uninterested in the circumstances of Vasily's murder and martyrdom for the collectivist cause. No doubt, the Soviet regime produced this film to (a) encourage collectivization against private ownership, and (b) Encourage a retro-pagan worship of agrarian life against orthodox Christianity. The collectivist vs. Kulak story in (a) is crude and unconvincing propaganda to a modern audience with historical perspective on Stalin's brutalities in the 1930's. However, it is with the fertile imagery and montage of natural cycles in (b) that Dovzhenko succeeds beautifully and transcends the story and makes it timeless.
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mind-bogglingly great
jonathan-57727 December 2006
Now I regret all the times I've railed about how propaganda is synonymous with contempt for the audience. It is sometimes hard to know what to say about a movie when it is a 'best of all time list' warhorse, but not this time. I have never - ever - seen a movie with a more deliberate, or surer, sense of rhythm. Two sequences that are nothing but long montages of fruit are absolutely riveting. A man sits, re-evaluating his world view, and because it takes a long time to do that we fade to black THREE times over about a minute, without him moving or changing position. This glacial tempo lulls us, so that Dovzhenko can jolt us with the arrival of a speedy tractor; or a collectivo's joyous dance through the dust over several lengthy wide shots is disrupted by his abrupt murder. Then the movie climaxes with an unbelievable crescendo where at least FIVE events are montaged, in perfectly comprehensible rhetorical construction. The movie begins with a death scene whose understated acting is mind-boggling even now, forget 1930; the final shot balances all the anti-church rhetoric with an image that is absolutely redemptive and spiritual, only the point is that redemption is found in LIFE. I'm not being pompous, this movie actually functions on that level. It achieves poetry AND propaganda in a way that I've never ever experienced before. It kind of reminds me of Brian Wilson's "Smile" in its modest grandeur, so true that it's painful, but so f***ing great that you want to experience it again and again. You can get it for free at the St. Catharines Library.
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Just stunning
preppy-325 June 2004
This silent film focuses on a small Ukranian village in 1930. It's about small independent farmers working against a "collective"--a state run collaboration of farms. The film (kind of) is about their conflict.

To be truthful there isn't much of a story--that's secondary in this film. The imagery is what counts and it's truly stunning. It contains some of the most gorgeous footage I've ever seen of nature and, in images, clearly documents man's love of the earth. There are characters and a minor story but they're actually pretty bad--the story is painfully slow, the acting horrendous (one very good-looking actor just stands there with a big beautiful grin on his face no matter WHAT the scene is about) and has some of the most laughable dialogue cards I've ever seen (I'm assuming it doesn't translate well from Russian). Also the "restored" print looks pretty terrible. Still the images are incredible and there's a beautiful music score going along with it.

Historically and visually this is a landmark of world cinema--a definite must-see. Try to see the unedited prints which contain surprising (for 1930) female nudity.
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Silent Soviet Cinema's Apex
Jason Forestein15 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
As majestic as the early films of Eisenstein are, his silent era work cannot hold a candle to the fluid, gorgeous humanism present in Dovzhenko's Earth. This is, perhaps, a little ironic, considering that the film is largely concerned with the benefits of collectivism and the wonder of tractors.

Or is it? Maybe Earth is a subtle undermining of the "Soviet spirit," implying that the collective, which rejoices at the tractor's entrance, is foolish for doing so--foolish for abandoning their joyous, pagan, and, consequently, slightly anarchic past. Does Dovzhenko appreciate the mechanization of agriculture or does he despair at the effects of progress?

Like most Soviet filmmakers, Dovzhenko demonstrates ideology that is never clear and always ambivalent.

Really, though, that is not and should not be the point of this film. What matters are the images. This film is filled with beautiful and poetic visuals--incomparable in early cinema, if you ask me. Nothing comes close to touching the absolute perfection of the shots here. It's amazing. Eisenstein, Griffith, and Murnau may have introduced important elements into the cinematic language, but Dovzhenko made, I think, the first cinematic work of absolute beauty. Fans of Wong Kar Wai or Terrence Malick would do well to visit this film by their forbearer.
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Clunky propaganda plot and performances but visually and technically impressive and important
bob the moo22 June 2008
In Ukraine the landowners hold out against progress and the rights of communally worked farms of the people. When one such farm gets a tractor to further help them one of the richer farmers murders one of the collective, hoping to stop the movement in its tracks. However the opposite is true and the collective rises up out of the oppression and the tragedy to overcome the selfish and cruel approach of the rich.

This is one of those films that I knew I had to see rather than one of those films that are less well regarded but are less demanding to watch. I am glad that I finally got round to it because it is technically and visually a very good film with some very striking images. This is different from it being a good film due to the narrative though because in this regard it is quite a mixed bag. The structure of the tale is not great and it doesn't flow together in a way that I found engaging but more of concern to the modern viewer is the sweeping unquestioning propaganda that the story essentially is. It would be nice to pretend that this does not detract from the film but it does – and not because I happen to disagree with the point being made but just because it is the simplistic clumsy point making of propaganda and it does jar slightly.

Dovzhenko's visuals are where the film is strongest though and it is worth seeing for this because whether is the depiction of sorrow or the beauty of the open fields, he catches it really well. If only he had done more with the performances then things would have been helped, not to mention the clunky dialogue cards (although I have to assume that those are mostly down to poor translation). So as long as you are not expecting this to be a fun experience or a great story then it is indeed a classic film that you should watch as part of an education in cinema.
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Not even bad in a "fun" way
TooShortforThatGesture4 September 2006
Just dull dull dull dull dull. Oh -- and pointless. What "art" there is in this movie is limited to still compositions. A great work to demonstrate the importance of a cinematographic eye rather than a compositional one. Some pretty black and white pictures of fruit ripening on the vine and some waving wheat. A silly segment where a man discusses the fact that he's about to die, gets a little something to eat and says "ok I'm going to die now" and does. Other than that -- 70-odd minutes of obscure and ineffective propaganda in favor of tractors and collectivization. If Lenin had seen this movie he would have gone into investment banking, rather than waste more time espousing communism. Please don't waste your time on this.
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Humbling - the masterpiece of Soviet cinema.
Alice Liddel20 December 2000
'Earth' purports to be about people and history, about the huge traumas violent lurches in history can cause, as one period gives way to the next, especially when the first has been engrained into the psyche of a people for centuries. But, as the title suggests, the film is really about the earth, nature, as it opens and closes with two stunning emanations of a pantheistic spirit, as the wind blows over a vast meadow, creating a violent wave-like moment in an immoveable space, or the final montage of spring, renewal, fruit, sun, rain, following on from the delirious dramatic symphony, as a number of plot-points converge to the point of frenzy.

Nature is as subject to violence and change as the human order - is this what Dovzhenko is saying? Or rather, does immemorial, unchanging nature stand indifferent to the petty problems of man? In that opening hymn, any human activity is stilled, at one with nature, as a young girl stares with less personality and force than a neighbouring sunflower. Throughout, at moments where the human crises are at their most compelling, Dovzhenko emphasises nature, the monumental, dumb animals who observe the scenes with godlike calm; the huge skyscapes that obscure the apparent drama of the tractor arrival. Human poses that emphasise power are quickly cut down to size, reduced to mere heads. Even the rhythmic montage of industrial activity the tractor brings in its wake suggests the accelerated cycle of the seasons. And I thought only the Archers or King Vidor know anything about filming nature.

This is not to say that human activity is rendered pointless. Set against, or, rather, co-existing with the powerful sense of nature is an ennobling of humanity. This is a story about peasants, of whom there were nameless millions in Russia, and yet Dovzhenko films their drama as a Wagnerian epic, a real Twilight of the Gods. The opening sequence, as an old man dies, has a mesmeric, ritual, monumental quality, increased by the reverential pacing, the awareness of death, the deliberate gestures, the iconic close-ups.

The music throughout, for my money worthy of Herrman and Morricone (i.e. the best) has an epic Wagnerian quality; here it is hushed, foreboding; later dissonant violence clashes with Romantic outpouring and dramatic intensity, all with a cyclic, fluid, unstable rush - that final symphony I mentioned, the hero's funeral, overpowers with its combination of music, montage, narrative and image.

Only the myopic and American could possibly see this masterpiece as propagandist. Dovzhenko utilises many of the 'intellectual' methods of Eisenstein, but continually disrupts them, collapsing political dialectics into a mystical, paganistic, spiritual ejaculation, with narrative always secondary to feeling - Vasili's death, a possessed dance at the crossroads; the old man who tries to communicate with the dead. The closing images of resurrection are all a staggering two fingers to materialism and socialist realism.
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One of the worst "All Time Classics"
vandino116 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Most of the time the cinema cognoscente make the correct judgments in choosing the "All-Time Classic" films... but in the case of 'Earth' ('Zemlya') they have foolishly gone blind and declared the naked Emperor is truly wearing clothes. This is a case where the political left, in the thirties, was championing Stalin's Soviet Union as the bright future of mankind, and was heralding the Soviet propaganda films as masterpieces of cinema. So, over the decades, this film has calcified into a "classic" and therefore viewers are expected to be impressed and "get it." Sorry, but pretty scenic shots of fields is not enough. 'Earth' is not even close to being a masterpiece, in fact, it is one of the most indescribably bad films ever made. But its purpose was no greater than any ordinary educational film: it was meant to sell communes to the Soviet people and harden their attitude toward anyone bucking the farming collective system.

Okay, why is it so bad? First of all, it's a story about the coming of a tractor to a farming collective and the repercussions of said tractor's arrival. Catchy, exciting idea, right? And how does the film begin? It opens with an old man, ready to die. He asks for food, eats it, folds his arms and dies. Laughable, but played serious. Then there's the young man who champions the cause of bringing the tractor to the farm... and after it appears promptly dies while dancing his way home. Death by happy feet? Then there is the overblown arrival of the all-important tractor. The build-up goes on and on and on to the point of hysteria... and when the machine finally arrives it immediately breaks down. After messing with it for a while, it cranks back up and we proceed to seemingly endless shots of Happy Harvesting Farmers and that tractor doing its job. Oh, the excitement never ends, I tellya! After that young man dies dancing his way home, we get his family and others going into hair-tearing, wall-pounding hysterics the likes of which can only be compared to the absolute worst silent-movie ham acting and directing. But interspersed throughout this unintentional laugh riot (and "riot" is the right word for most of these Soviet spectacles since crude filmmakers like Dovzhenko and Eisenstein are incapable of subtlety, therefore their actors are always near or past the verge of eye-rolling, arm flailing hysterics) we also are served up static shots of fields, flowers and fruit. So, you can spend half the film laughing yourself silly at the absurd dramatics, or be bored to tears by the vapid scenic shots. I virtually guarantee you'll scratch your head in wonder at how this monstrosity can still be considered one of the greatest films of all time.
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Earth, Full of Pretentious Communists
Although this was an early film, it is completely boring because of the proselytizing done by the supposed "communist state", which was in reality only an elitist central committee protected by the elements of the army and a secret police, much like America today. The premise is that the people who don't co-operate with the communal needs of the state, are "scum of the earth" or "crop fertilizer" and they are portrayed as being selfish and undesirable murderers in the film and thus have to be 'weeded out'. Its obvious that this is nothing but a ultra-realist piece of propaganda from Stalinist Russia, there's nothing to get excited over considering a small peasant village is getting a new tractor. Some interesting shots but over all, very boring and empty of any substance which keeps the viewer interested......For the agricultural student, its dated because the machinery used is now obsolete, some nice seeds/crops in the film though and shots of animal husbandry are included, especially a titillating scene where a peasant babushka milks a cow. Extras on the DVD's include 1930's constructivist milk ads from Russia and how to brush your teeth with toothpaste made from manure.
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What the...?
David Austin13 November 1998
I don't usually have a problem with surreal films but this one was deadly. There are some nice visual touches that justifiably lend this movie historical importance but watching it is a misery. The dialogue: "Gonna die, huh?" "Yep." The naked fat woman running around in her house for arcane reasons. The MOST boring characters I have ever encountered outside of a Slasher film. Admittedly all these things have their artistic rhyme and reason, but they're still about as fun to watch as an elderly relative cutting their toenails.
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Lyrical human drama with a magnificent montage scene
tomgillespie200216 September 2012
The Soviet Union's political and social journey throughout the first few decades of the twentieth century presented a wide and rich palette for film-making innovators to work from. The most popular of the Soviet visionaries was Sergei M. Eisenstein, master of the montage, and champion of the working-classes. So breathtaking was Eisenstein's work, that it is easy for other great film-makers to be relatively forgotten. Although it would be extreme to label Aleksandr Dovzhenko, director of the magnificent Earth, as forgotten, time has been unfair to the director who was arguably as visually innovative and socially aware as his counterpart.

Earth begins with the death of a farmer, Semyon (Nikolai Nademsky), who says his goodbye's beneath a pear tree, blissfully ignorant of the turbulence his death will cause. The village is cut down the middle. One half are the kulaks, private-land owning peasants, who were seen to be growing rich in their greed by Stalin, personified in the film as Arkhip (Ivan Franko), who discusses with his group the idea of collectivisation, to a united resistance. The other, is the sceptical Opanas (Stepan Shkurat), father to the pro-collectivisation Basil (Semyon Svashenko), who is a member of All-Union Leninist Youth Communist League. The arrival of a new tractor lifts the communities spirits, but a murder sparks off a feud.

One of the many social revolutions to come out of the Stalin-era Soviet Union was the idea of collectivisation. After Ukranian peasants were given rights to own land at the turn of the century, Stalin saw them growing rich beyond their means and vowed to eliminate what he saw as its own social class. Collectivisation was to bring land back to the community, therefore generating more product and boosting the economy. But the Soviet army met stubborn resistance from the peasants, who were seeing their land and goods seized and distributed.

Dovzhenko's film has a somewhat ambiguous message, focusing more of the individual plights of a select group of characters. The collectivists and communists are clearly the more sympathetic groups in the film, but the film is more human drama than political propaganda. Like Eisenstein, Dovzhenko treats us to a simply brilliant montage scene, as the delight of the farmers at the arrival of a new tractor (which they urinate in to get going) is juxtaposed alongside the mechanics of grain production. This feeling of the metaphorical prevails throughout the film, as the seemingly endless grain fields and growing fruit are filmed as if tiny gods, watching the human drama unfold beneath them. The film had a mixed reception upon release, forcing Dovzhenko into depression, but is now rightly heralded as one of the most important to come of the Soviet Union, alongside Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925).

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Voice that washes clean
chaos-rampant14 September 2011
The film ends with a stunning panorama of humanity, a set of images alternately showing; a man running mad, a priest beseeching god to punish, a nude woman raving mad, another going into labor, a funeral procession of stern, solemn faces. So it is all there, with life as this dance between sorrow and new life, between damnation and transcendence

It has all been set in motion by the eye though, the Soviet eye that doesn't contemplate but animates by seeing. In Zvenigora it was the statuesque officer of the Red Army as emblematic of Soviet spirit; here it is the young farmer driving a tractor.

So look how it all transpires, it's more knowledge than film courses offer in a year. Before life was clear, content with unjust hardship and small pleasure - images show tilted skies, fields of hay rolling in the wind, and the old man quietly submitting to the prescribed fate - but with the arrival of the tractor, and so this mechanical eye literally plowing through the frame, it's all vigorously animated in a chorus, a frenzy of splintered image. The scenes of production are so powerfully abstract I register them on a cosmologic level; they might as well be a lost reel from the first moments of the universe, in fact, they are, astutely so, about the genesis of a new world and new life from it, Soviet in this case.

In this new life machines are the engines forward. Man as this machine. In something that could read like the ravings of some futurist manifesto, the young man preaches this new word to an assembly of villagers. So even though, like all silent films, it reaches us as a museum piece, we can and must reclaim it; it is a vigorous cinema pounding with the youthful vision of a new society.

Oh, the failings of that society to materialize as prescribed are known to most, and neither here nor there. The thing is this; the struggle was thought to matter, and so this cinema, perfectly centered in that struggle, provided voice that mattered, the song to work the fields to.

Such voice we find in the powerful metaphor that ends the film. There is fruit everywhere, on the ground, or hanging from branches, and it's pouring down hard; it rains and rains but it is all silently endured and what was thought for a moment that would break life away was merely what washed it clean, watered it to grow.

You may hear that Dovzhenko was a Malick of the time who made his art for the masses. Rather it's the other way around; I like Malick, but there is a tinge of sadness compared to a work like this, that his talents - or anyone's for that matter for a long time - cannot hope to animate, and be animated by, a new world anymore and we're merely chronicling our despairs.

It's all so perfectly centered in a worldview, this one probably the final step in the Soviet cinematic sojourn before sound and censors scattered these makers in the four winds. Only the Japanese centered deeper. Oh, it's a sermon alright; but a sermon that washes perception clean.
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Interesting visually and a fine example of that period's propaganda
ocelot99916 June 2005
A visually experimental film (even by today's standard) and a fine example of propaganda from that period. One has to remember that at the time, collective farms in Russia were still a bold social experiment (as was propaganda as a phenomenon for that matter), and it was not at all clear that it will end in failure. So the film's authors were not necessarily insincere or somehow oppressed by "Stalinist forces" to show it in a positive light. This may seem unusual for the westerners not accustomed to hearing of communism other than as a swear word. I hope that somebody undertakes to restore this film using modern digital technique, to remove all the flicker and uneven brightness, imagine how much more beautiful it could be. I have to mention also that English translation of the inter-titles is not accurate, at some points distorting their meaning. For example, when the arriving tractor stalls, the women shout "It stopped" and not "It's here"; later the party boss says "A tractor cannot stop" translated as "the tractor can't arrive" (or something), depriving the English-speaking audience of a subtle moment of satire in the film.
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A miracle of a film
laosonik29 June 2012
This is the first ,and possibly the best, poetic film in the history of cinema.This is where everything started from.Tarkovsky,Paradjanov ...nothing would have been the same without Dozhenko and "Earth".The seed of a whole way of perception of life and universe seems to have been planted here.It is also the seed of maybe the best method of expression in cinematic form along with Bresson's first period (1950-59).A masterpiece so rare and solid,which goes straight to the point and shows the filmmaker's philosophy from the first until the last shot.A true monument of art with a transcendent power that scarcely can be achieved,"Earth" could have been the first or the last film ever on our planet.And this proves the unprecedented perfection and originality of it.
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The most beautiful pictures of liberating machines
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU28 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
That sure is beautiful filmography. It is still a silent film and it has to express the worst and deepest feelings with only the body and the face, at most some gestures. But, and that is the difference with German or English or American films of that time, the Soviets do not use the traditional symbolic gestures or face expressions. They do use those gestures that go along with the communist vision of things, with the revolutionary attitude the film defends and advocates. But the feelings themselves, like love or sadness, or suffering are exclusively expressed by natural facial language. A smile is a smile and it is not forced as it is too often in the American comic films or the German dramatic films of the time. It wants to be realistic to the last little detail. And that gives to the film a tremendous force. The story itself is of course ideological if not political but it is simple and probably true too in some respect. That the son of one of the collective farm workers is killed by the young landowner in the village is no surprise. This film is there in 1930 to justify the first purge Stalin imposes, a purge that went through without that much uproar from the world: the landowners were either willing to give their land or their land was taken away and they had to disappear in a way or another. But the joy of these collective farm workers when the first tractor arrives is so true with the dream of finally producing more with less exhausting work. That dream too is political in a way, but it is the dream of all men in the world, to produce more not by working less but by making work easier. The dream of progress, be it American or Russian or Chinese or Indian is always the same: to live better and to enjoy life, work and rest alike. This dream is painted in numerous close-up shots on faces and their expressions and that is marvelous, something to watch and appreciate. Can we still do that, or are our cinema actors more trite or concentrating more on language, even when it is dubbed afterwards? Silent films were making the actor the very center of the screen in the Soviet Union that was generally very tragic, which was less true with Fritz Lang or Laurel and Hardy, or at least in no way as realistic as with the Soviets.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
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Soviet fable: rich farmers resist the people's use of the land
netwallah28 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The kulaks, or rich farmers, hold out against progress, brought to the collective farm in the form of a new tractor, driven by Vassili. One of the kulaks murders him at night, and the people hold a new sort of funeral celebration with new songs about the new life, instead of inviting the church to manage their grief. There is no god, Vassili's father says, and the priest goes back to the church to curse the people. The murderer goes mad, crying out that he won't give up his land, spinning in circles, pressing his face into the plowed earth. Because collectivism did not work, it is perhaps too easy to forget the people's condition before the revolution. They were landless serfs, bound to the landowners and living in the worst sort of poverty. Here, working the land together, their work ennobles them and provides a promise of a better, more equitable future. The film is shot with lyrical human optimism, stunning photography of peasant faces, old faces with years and character, young smiling faces with strength and courage. The land, too, is lyrically portrayed, the film opening and closing with images of rain in the orchards, apples and melons, pears, leaves... Some of the characters are photographed standing in grain fields, the low camera angle taking in the rippling wheat and the great white summer clouds. Vassili's bereaved fiancée hurls herself naked across her bedroom, tearing at the walls and calling his name. The people crowd the dusty lane marching and singing to lay Vassili to rest. Zemyla is a beautiful movie—sometimes the narrative is a bit murky and hard to follow, and sometimes the photography (or the print) is dark, but the imagery carries the story as well as it does in any silent film.
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A great classic
Jorge Paupério28 July 2006
"The Earth", Dovzhenko's last silent movie, and it is also his best. With a simple story of a young farmer from an Ucranian village, Dovzhenko works the lyrical expression of an universal theme: the life circle of a person. The movie is developed with a constant counterpoint between pictures of life and death, being the images of death and social changes extremely powerful. The arrival of a tractor is the turning point of all the social changes in the farm, as it is gradually shown in the movie. Yes, it is a movie from former USSR, but that shouldn't make us build a preconceptcion of the movie (in fact this movie was censored by the USSR). In short, one sentence for this movie: Death not as an end, but as a natural process. Watch it!
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Well-Deserved Reputation
carlbaugher22 June 2006
While some see the glass half-full and some half-empty, judging by the other review, some have trouble seeing the glass at all! This film is clearly a masterpiece of visual cinema, and well-deserving of its reputation. The depiction of the rural Russian village is evocative in the extreme and the expressiveness of the actors is completely consistent with the silent era.

What really makes "Earth" a masterpiece, however, is the subtle yet powerful depiction of the life-cycle and its close inter-relationship with nature and the land. It would be hard to find a better, more concise portrayal of man's tethered existence to Mother Earth.

Stylistically, Dovzhenko displays much in common with Eisenstein in the rapid, dynamic editing and the montage segments. Some of the harvesting sequences, for instance, are almost mesmerizing in their kinetic motion and visual impact.

Clearly, a familiarity with early Russian cinema (and visually dominated cinema, in particular) will be helpful in appreciating this film. Still, it's hard to imagine how even a semi-conscious viewer would miss what's being communicated. But art is decidedly subjective and this film will (obviously) not appeal to all.

A word of caution: forget the political subtext as it's all but irrelevant in appreciating this early work. It's the images that are important.
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A Living Organism
dougdoepke24 January 2011
Stalin may have wanted an ode to collective agriculture; what he got instead was a hymnal to mother nature and the toiling offspring who dwell in her bosom. Those opening shots of pulsating fields waving in the wind have no equal for sheer evocative power. Earth is revealed at once as a living, breathing being and bountiful provider. Flower, fruit, decay, renewal -- nature's timeless cycle. The soundless imagery is at times so wonderfully lyrical that contemporary viewers may be led to recognize how much has been lost to the technology-driven cinema of today. Even the occasional plot crudities are rescued by a style that is both brilliant and unerringly pictorial. Close-ups of weather-worn peasants, a lone kulak and oxen beneath an immense sky, great rolling plains and far horizons of the Ukrainian breadbasket -- this is the sheer lyrical sweep of the Dovchenko masterpiece, a montage that transcends all obstacles, real and man-made. Not even the estimable John Ford frames primitive elements as grandly as this. There are flaws. Too many rushing crowd scenes appear without purpose, except to mimic Eisenstein's "march of history", while the propaganda thread at times blends uneasily with the lyrical. Still and all, Dovchenko pulls off the theme of new beginning more seamlessly than might be expected. Far from being a mere relic of the silent era, or an ode to Stalinist collectivism, Earth remains an enduring testament to the power of cinema as sheer visual poetry.
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Earth is one of the greatest films of all time.
G K26 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Trouble results in a Ukrainian village when a landowner refuses to hand over his land for a collective farm. Earth is the third film of director Alexander Dovzhenko's "Ukraine Trilogy" (along with Zvenigora and Arsenal).

The film's melodramatic plot takes second place to lyrical, radiant sequences of rustic beauty, illustrating life, love and death in the countryside, of a quality that at the time had never before been seen on film. Earth is usually considered Dovzhenko's best film, and is often cited alongside Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin (1925) as one of the most important films of the Soviet era.
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Restricted vision
federovsky25 August 2009
Dovzhenko can really turn it on when he wants to but unfortunately it's not very often in this film. There are endless shots of faces running through the theatrical catalogue of emotions - usually distress. He has a habit of repeating every shot two or three times, sometimes more. The hilarious subtitling on my version didn't help:

'Are you dyin' Peter?' 'That I be, Simon.'

In the middle there is stirring section inspired by the acquisition of a new tractor - impressive stuff, and there is some sociological value in the cossack(?) peasantry (those guys really knew how to grow beards), but the deplorably banal socialist politics and and countless shots of heroic folk standing proudly against a dramatic sky (red filter to bring out the clouds) are heavy chains around the ankles of this film.
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