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USSR, 1930 (MIFF 1961, Programme 25)

Director: Alexander Dovzhenko

The story of Earth is a simple one. It tells, after a slow, lyrical prologue, of the fierce opposition of the Russian Kulaks to collective farmers. Its personal drama is that of Vasili, a young farmer, leader of the village co-operative, who is shot by a jealous Kulak: the climactic sequence of the film is his funeral procession, his body carried on an open bier through the ripening fields, the sun and the overhanging branches of apple trees brushing his face. Earth is a film of wonderfully concentrated mood, expressed often in compositions that are unforgettably striking. It has both pathos and humour in its evocation of peasant life, an almost physical passion for nature. Two sequences stand out particularly: an extraordinary, formalised scene at evening, where lovers sit in the fields watching the sunset, the peaceful animals, the quiet land - Dovzhenko reveals this in a series of statuesque groups. The other sequence is the murder of Vasili in the moonlight, after his solitary elated dance down the lane - the ecstatic figure suddenly arrested in long shot, falling, then a man running off in the distance while the dust rises about Vasili's body.

Alexander Dovzhenko, the son of Ukranian peasants, and in his early life a painter and cartoonist, is the supreme lyricist of the Soviet cinema. Earth, his fourth and best known film, has the same theme as Eisenstein's The General Line. But there the similarities end: where Eisenstein's film makes intellectual propaganda, Dovzhenko's is poetic in approach, more concerned with the universalities of life - "old men die, in the fullness of time, as the apples ripen on the trees; young are born and life is renewed." Earth, a critic has justly remarked, is a poem.

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