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Review: Earth

Earth may be silent, but there’s so much vitality in any given frame as to suggest a non-stop primal scream.

4
Earth
Photo: Amkino Corporation

In Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s orgiastic paean to Soviet collectivism Earth, there’s nothing more beautiful than the untainted countryside. After 75 years of servitude to the land, an old man teasingly bids farewell to his countrymen amid a field of apples, a serene but nonetheless subversive evocation of pastoral rejuvenation that may or may not have inspired Julien Temple’s insipid, award-winning music video for Enigma’s “Return to Innocence.”

Dovzhenko envisions a jittery disconnect between the film’s older and younger generations during a period of transition that sees rich landowners exploiting the area’s commerce. Before the arrival of the film’s celebratory tractor, Dovzhenko’s daring use of montage likens a group of grazing cattle to ravenous countrymen scavenging the landscape for terrain to pillage.

Unlike Sergei Eisenstein’s equally subversive Strike from five years earlier, Earth never really explodes but nonetheless threatens to do so for 60-plus maddening minutes; for that, it’s all the more impressive than anything Eisenstein ever made. There’s no mistaking the film’s propagandistic chutzpah: Characters don’t talk and scream to each other as much as they do to the wind, and the infamous tractor whose arrival is ghoulishly celebrated by an entire populace becomes a delirious symbol for an encroaching, technological future.

Though the tractor improves production, Dovzhenko recognizes the machine as an anti-cosmic terror; via a rhythmic montage of churning gears and rivers of plant seed, he evokes the death of the land’s pagan spirit. There’s a sense here that characters move in order to ward off evil. The death of one countryman effects all, and the entire community exorcises their grief in perfect sync—a startling ritual of primordial restoration. Earth may be silent, but there’s so much vitality in any given frame as to suggest a non-stop primal scream.

Cast: Stepan Shkurat, Semyon Svashenko, Yuliya Solntseva, Yelena Maksimova, Nikolai Nademsky, Ivan Franko, Pyotr Masokha, Vladimir Mikhajlov Director: Aleksandr Dovzhenko Screenwriter: Aleksandr Dovzhenko Distributor: Amkino Corporation Running Time: 70 min Rating: NR Year: 1930 Buy: Video

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