Zemlya - Earth (1930) dir. Aleksandr Dovzhenko
Zemlya ought to be remembered along the lines of Triumph of the Will; remarkable for its technical achievements, but morally reprehensible for its complicity in genocide.
The story of Soviet oppression of Ukraine is among the worst ever told. In 1932 and 1933 alone, the Soviets would intentionally starve to death between 6 million and 7 million Ukranians in what became known as the “Holomodor.”
Ukrainian nationalism helped provoke opposition to Soviet Russian rule. Propaganda campaigns in the 1920′s and 1930′s attempted to quell the population. Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s film Zemlya (Earth) was commissioned by the Soviet government in this context.
The plot of the film is pure propaganda. The hardworking farmers are oppressed by the rich kulaks. They buy a tractor and form a collective farm, but the rich landowner murders the youthful leader. The budding communists hold a rally of support for the “new order” while the Orthodox priest rails against them in vain in the abandoned church.
To his credit, Dovzhenko seems less interested in converting farmers than he does finding appealing targets for his camera. The frequent shots of the wind blowing through the sea of wheat evoke both Tarkovsky and Malick. The montage of the faces screaming and crying at the abuse of the kulak is especially effective.
Eisenstein gets off the hook to some degree; Battleship Potemkin played the party line, but back when the sailors were still allies and the revolution still stood, in a large part, for anti-Tsarism. By 1930, the horrors of Stalin were obvious, but Dovzhenko kept his party card and raised no sign of protest.
Zemlya (Earth) is #135 on the 2011 edition of the TSPDT 1,000 list I’m blogging through. I’ve now seen 409.