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Yellow Pass (1928)

Zemlya v plenu (original title)
Jacob, a farmer, returns from the war to his wife Marie and begs the landlord baron for a plot of land to rent. The Baron grants the request, but only for a barren, rocky, useless acreage. ... See full summary »


Fyodor Otsep


Fyodor Otsep




Credited cast:
Anna Sten ... Maria, young farmer's wife
Ivan Koval-Samborsky ... Jacob
Mikhail Narokov Mikhail Narokov ... Belskiy
Vladimir Fogel ... Baron's son-in-law (as V.P. Fogel)
Anel Sudakevich ... Anya - Baron's married daughter
Sofya Yakovleva Sofya Yakovleva ... Katarina (as S. Yakovleva)
Pyotr Baksheyev ... Doorman, butler
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Nikolay Batalov ... Maria's fellow villager
Ivan Chuvelyov
Konstantin Gradopolov
Sofya Levitina Sofya Levitina
Vera Maretskaya ... Prostitute
Porfiri Podobed


Jacob, a farmer, returns from the war to his wife Marie and begs the landlord baron for a plot of land to rent. The Baron grants the request, but only for a barren, rocky, useless acreage. The pair struggle to make do on this land, but then the Baron demands that Maria leave her husband to serve as wet nurse to his married daughter Anya's new baby, on threat of eviction. While nursing the daughter's baby, Maria receives unwelcome attentions from the daughter's husband, and a scandal erupts, ruining Maria in her husband's eyes. When she escapes from her employers and seeks to return home, the police give her the yellow passport signifying a prostitute, further degrading her. She approaches home, unsure of the reception that awaits her. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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Version of The Yellow Passport (1916) See more »

User Reviews

Visually impressive, emotional melodrama
20 June 2011 | by mgmaxSee all my reviews

In 1928, this was one of the first Soviet films to reach the west and considered on a par with Potemkin; Variety felt it was so important that they reviewed it twice (once from the artistic perspective and once from the average exhibitor's jaundiced viewpoint). If not the stylistic groundbreaker that Potemkin was, it's an impressive work of both visual beauty and emotional impact (rare among Soviet silents), that warrants rediscovery for itself and for its director, whose first solo effort (after co-directing Miss Mend with Boris Barnet) this was.

Maria (Anna Sten) and Jacob (I.I. Koval Samborski) are a happy peasant couple soon to become unhappy; the local baron, who rented them the rockiest piece of land this side of Man of Aran, has a daughter, who forces Sten to abandon her own family and wetnurse hers. She in turn has a husband (Vladimir Fogel of Miss Mend) who lusts after the peasant girl whose bare shoulder he's exposed to on a regular basis, and all this leads to Maria having a fight with her husband, trying to flee the home, and winding up with the infamous Yellow Ticket certifying her as a member of the profession of prostitute. (Note: this film bears no resemblance to any other film of that title, most of which are based on a famous American play of the teens.)

Clearly Ozep, in devising this Zolaesque story, was looking for material that would fly with the regime, and there's a perfectly good expose of the decadence of the Tsarist regime here, chaining peasants to aristocratic whim just as the land is chained with barbed wire, and using their bodies for feeding or pleasure indiscriminately. If Ozep's visual lyricism about peasants and the land doesn't go to the florid extremes of, say, Dovzhenko, on the other hand it has a sharp point which it makes with precision and a mordant wit, which you can't really say of Earth.

In fact, though the scenes of Maria and Jacob's peasant life have a rough-edged believability (as in his next film, The Living Corpse, Ozep is a great caster of weatherbeaten, non-actor extras) and quite a lot of visual beauty, the strongest section of the film is when Maria sinks into the profession for which she mistakenly has the ticket. It's worth noting that Ozep made three films in a row with substantial brothel sequences (The Living Corpse and The Murderer Dmitri Karamasoff), and in each case he seems to evince a real, ahem, love for the milieu in all its forced joviality, wanton desire, and seedy decadence, music and lust and self-loathing combining for a vivid impression of manic-depressive hell on earth. Sten, too, reaches the high point of her performance here, trading Maria's customary cow-like blank stare for a despondent world-weariness.

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Soviet Union



Release Date:

15 December 1928 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Yellow Pass See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Mezhrabpom-Rus See more »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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