"Chinatown" in Turkmenistan; or, the peasants are revolting.
I'm not nearly as fluent in Russian as I'd like to be. One way I gain familiarity with the language is by watching Russian movies (preferably recent ones, with contemporary dialects) and trying to follow the dialogue. A friend of mine from Kiev recommended this early Russian sound film to me: although it's officially a talkie, most or all of the footage was clearly shot silent and then post-dubbed. Very little of the story is dependent on dialogue, and so it was easy for me to follow the action. This movie is also interesting due to its location scenes in a part of the world that didn't get filmed very often in the 1930s.
"Earth Is Thirsty" takes place in Turkmenistan, specifically in a barren desert region where the peasant farmers are barely subsisting. In Stalin's economic system, these people are "bednyakyi" (peons). Enter stage left a "kulak" (the Russian equivalent of a hidalgo), portrayed by Leonid Vikhrev from the Moscow branch office of the Snidely Whiplash Dramatic Academy. He manages to divert the region's only water supply for the sole benefit of his own land. Nyah-ha-ha! The starving peasants start starving even faster.
But help is on the way, comrade! Along come the courageous Soviet civil engineers, selflessly dedicated to serving the impoverished proletariat. Using modern irrigation techniques, they re-reroute the water supply back to the peasants' land. The film has an upbeat finish, with the peasants dancing, singing and celebrating.
I have no idea how accurate this movie is. I'm generally quite sceptical of Soviet propaganda films. This one seemed to have a greater ring of accuracy than most others I've seen, but the difference may be down to the fact that this movie's story is more concerned with helping the peasants survive rather than uplifting their political sensibilities. In some ways, this film reminded me of King Vidor's 'Our Daily Bread', which similarly flirted with communism and collectivism. And the shenanigans with the water supply inevitably reminded me of 'Chinatown'.
None of the actors here give subtle performances. The peasants are depicted as the honest salt of the earth ... but OF COURSE they're honest, since there's nothing hereabouts worth stealing. The role of the kulak is scripted as a double-dyed villain, and played by Vikhrev accordingly, so I was intrigued that he doesn't face any sort of come-uppance, nor even a reformation in the style of Ebenezer Scrooge. The film ends with Vikhrev sulking in his dacha while the peasants celebrate. My rating for this one: 6 out of 10.
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