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Earth (Zemlya) (DVD)

Is silent Soviet propaganda still watchable now?

Disc Specs

Starring Stepan ShkuratSemyon SvashenkoYulina SolntsevaYelena MaksimovaNikolai Nademsky Disc Cover
Directed By Alexander Dovzhenko Certificate 18
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1
Visuals 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Running Time 78 mins
UK Release Date May 17, 2010
Genre Drama
Our Rating
User Rating

Earth (aka Zemlya) is a silent Soviet film from 1930. Its director, Alexander Dovzhenko, was commissioned to make a propaganda film that would encourage the formation of farming collectives. He came up with a striking tale combining rich symbolism and blunt emotion, in which a community of peasants is threatened by Kulak landowners. The farmers plan to unite and acquire their own tractor in order to fight back.

The film's images are extraordinary; they have a kind of timeless quality and are imbued with an indescribable sense of authority. In particular, the opening scene, in which an elderly farmer dies in a pear orchard, somehow tricks you into feeling you're experiencing a scene from the Bible as if it were actually happening in front of you, rather than watching a film from 1930.

As incredible as Earth often is, it's not without it's flaws. Since this is a propaganda film, three-dimensional characterisation isn't a strength - it's not even attempted. The film is more concerned with startling imagery, which can sometimes feel a little distancing. Another shortcoming is that in order to ram certain messages home, there is a great deal of repetition. The same shot is often acted several times just to make sure that we get the idea.

Both of these flaws are perhaps features that almost any silent propaganda film will inevitably possess; and taking this into account, Earth remains a great example of its genre. But since it's part of that genre, the question remains whether the film can be 'enjoyed' as much more than a historical curiosity or a document for specialists.

The DVD itself provides as clear a transfer as one could hope for. Also, the soundtrack on this release is clear and sharp and fits brilliantly with the action. A minor problem is the inept subtitling of the dialogue cards. It could be that the Russian is difficult to translate well, but sometimes the problem does simply appear to be bad phrasing in English. Either way, it often comically undercuts the gravity of the tale. Additionally, there aren't any special features, which is a major drawback, considering this is a film so rooted in its time and place that contextualisation is a must.

Overall Verdict: An important document for students of film and 20th-century history; merely a visually stunning curiosity for everyone else.

Special Features:
None

Reviewer: Tom René

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