Tuesday, September 06, 2011

ZEMLYA

USSR
1930
87 minutes


Ukrainian director Alexander Dovzhenko's silent-era paean to agricultural progress has gone down in film history as one of the all-time great movies – and no wonder. Its by now timeworn but then positively modern imagery of rolling wheat plains under wide open skies and backlighted square-jawed brave peasants, or its skill in the assemblage of said imagery to make a point both simultaneously narrative and ideological would be enough, but there's also an unusually nuanced approach to politics in it – which is the reason Earth most often confused the Party whose exploits the film supposedly sings. 

     At heart a propaganda piece in favor of the collective exploitation of the Ukrainian agricultural fields, under the guise of a class drama pitting the poor tenant farmers against the land-owning “kulaks”, the film takes its sweet time in getting there. Mr. Dovzhenko, directing, writing and editing, much prefers to place nature and its rhythms at the forefront, treating its characters as mere archetypes who draw their wisdom and reason from those ancestral habits marked by the roll of the seasons. Despite the final message of the “singing tomorrows”, with the entire village's youngsters singing at slain tenant Vassili's funeral, or the rousing scenes of the newly-acquired village machines toiling the fields, it's very clear that progress is there to heighten and serve nature, a new way of making sure its rhythms remain eternal.
  

Starring Stephan Shkupat, Semion Svashenko, Yulia Solntseva, Elena Maximova, Nikolai Nademsky, Ivan Franko, Piotr Masokha, Vladimir Mikhailov, Pavel Petrik, P. Umanets, Elena Bondina, P. Pyashenko. 
     Directed, written and edited by Alexander Dovzhenko; director of photography (b&w), Daniel Demutsky; art director, Vassili Krichevsky. 
      A VUFKU (All-Ukrainian Photo & Cinema Administration) presentation/production.
     Screened: Cinemateca Portuguesa - Luís de Pina screen (Lisbon), September 3rd 2011. 

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