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Film / Earth (1930)

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Earth (Зeмля, Zemlya) is a 1930 film from the Soviet Union, shot in the Ukrainian SSR, directed by Alexander Dovzhenko. The rather slight story centers on the Opanas family, farmers in a small Ukranian village. Vasyl, an enthusiastic young communist, is a strong advocate of collectivization, the process of grouping privately owned farms into collective farms to be shared by all. His father Opanas is skeptical, and the local kulaks (rich farmers), led by the Bilokin family, resist collectivization, as they wish to keep their own land.

A government tractor arrives and revolutionizes agriculture in the village. Vasyl uses the tractor to wreck the fence that separates the Bilokin property from the collective farm. Vasyl is happy, but the Bilokins strike back with violence.

To a latter-day viewer the film comes off as overt propaganda for collectivization (especially in light of what happened with The Holodomor), but in Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, Earth was regarded as not strident enough, and the film only received limited release. In fact the film, while making time for the propaganda message, does seem far more concerned with the "circle of life", birth and death, and the connection between the peasants and the land. Indeed, the filmmaker, Dovzhenko, was under observation for most of his career for "nationalist" sympathies, since all his films were set in his native Ukraine. Earth is the final part of an unofficial Ukraine Trilogy - the first two parts are Zvenigora and Arsenal. Earth is regarded as his masterpiece and is regularly considered among the greatest films ever made, its admirers include Francis Ford Coppola, Elia Kazan and Martin Scorsese.

Provides examples of:

  • At the Crossroads: Khoma Bilokin kills Vasyl at the crossroads, symbolizing the choice that Ukranian peasantry has to make.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Grandfather Semyon is dying in the opening scene, in which he's intercut with shots of apples on the trees and a baby in diapers. Then at the end of the film, as Vasyl's funeral procession moves through town, his mother goes into labor.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Many close-ups of the products of the earth—fruit on the vine, sunflowers, melons, wheat. These are juxtaposed with close-ups of the peasants, suggesting that they also are part of the land.
  • Book Ends: The same Blade-of-Grass Cut montage, and the same shot of wheat swaying in the field, at the beginning and end of the film.
  • Commune: The idealistic communists want to build a kolkhoz, a collective farm where everyone works the land together. The rich kulaks oppose them.
  • Corrupt Church: The Orthodox church supports the kulaks and is against collectivization. In the climactic montage, the priest is calling curses down on the town.
  • Down on the Farm: Namely, a Soviet collective farm in Ukraine.
  • Empathic Environment: After the village buries Vasyl, and takes the Bilokin land, the heavens open up and rain falls to water the crops.
  • Evil Stole My Faith: Opanas rejects religion and sends the priest away after Vasyl is murdered—see Staggered Zoom below.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Semyon in the opening scene. He sits up from his sickbed and asks for something to eat. After eating some fruit, he says "Well goodbye, I'm dying", and then lies down and dies.
  • Fan Disservice: Natalya, Vasyl's fiancee, grieving his death and wrecking the things in her little cottage—while in the nude.
  • Hitler Cam: Used sometimes with the farmers when they're working the land.
  • Montage / Mundane Made Awesome: A montage presents the baking of bread, starting with the harvesting of wheat, moving on to the separation of wheat from chaff, then going to the making of dough, and ending with finished loaves of bread coming out of the bakery.
  • Scenery Porn: Some beautiful shots of wheat fields waving in the wind.
  • Staggered Zoom: Onto Opanas's face right before he says "there ain't no God" and turns the Orthodox priest away from his home, the morning after Vasyl's murder.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: Performed by Vasyl, although he doesn't do the actual squat move.