ZEMLYA

Commissioned to make propaganda for Stalin’s farm collectivisations, the Soviet cinema’s great visual poet Alexander Dovzhenko instead delivered an impassioned hymn to nature.

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Introduction

“So moved am I by Dovzhenko’s film that I find it difficult to express in words the full meaning of the moving images that are at once lovely in themselves, lovely in sequence and lovely as a unified work of art.”
Paul Rotha, Celluloid, 1931

Earth is celebrated as one of cinema’s supreme visual masterpieces. The immensity of the sky bears down on the Ukrainian steppe as the arrival of a tractor signals a fundamental change to a centuries-old way of life, but the plot is secondary to the extraordinarily potent images of wheatfields, ripe fruit and weatherbeaten faces.

The film was originally commissioned to champion a policy that would ultimately lead to the famine-induced deaths of millions of Ukrainians. Director Alexander Dovzhenko could not have foreseen this, however, and his priorities were poetic rather than political. After Earth was denounced as Ukrainian nationalist propaganda, Dovzhenko lost his job at the Kiev Film Institute. He continued to make films until his death in 1956, but none scaled the same creative heights.

Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) is in a similar rhapsodic tradition.

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