Zemyla (Earth) (1930)




Director:    Alexander Dovzhenko.

Starring:     Stepan Shkurat (Opanas), Semyon Svashenko (Vasili 'Basil' Opanas), Yuliya Solntseva (Vasili's Sister), Yelena Maximova (Natalya - Vasili's Fiancee), Nikolai Nademsky (Semyon 'Simon' Opanas), Ivan Franko (Arkhip Whitehorse - Khoma's Father), Pyotr Masokha (Khoma 'Thomas' Whitehorse), Vladimir Mikhaylov (Village Priest), Pavel Petrik (Young Party-Cell Leader), P. Umanets (Chairman of the Village Farm Soviet), Ye. Bondina (Farm Girl), Luka Lyashenko (Young Kulak).

Soviet inspired film criticizing the evils of large landowners and extolling the virtues of cooperation on a collective farm in the Ukraine.



Earth was part of a campaign to coax private farmers to voluntarily merge their land and cattle into state-controlled collective farms.  But the film was released at a time of violence waged by radicals who tried to take the earth and livestock away from farmers who fought back with equal ruthlessness.  The real life atmosphere bore little resemblance to the idyllic mood of the film.

The three top Soviet Directors were Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Alexander Dovzhenko (1894-1956).


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

The wheat is waving and apples are on the apple trees.  Old Peter asks Old Simon, both grandfathers of Basil, if he is dying.  Simon says yes, and Peter says "Go ahead."  Peter just wants him to report back from the other side how things are for him.  Suddenly Simon sits up and asks for something to eat.  He eats an apple (pear?) and then lies back down and dies. 

The scene switches to a group of farmers and their wives wailing over the latest news. Arkhip Whitehorse is undermining the collective farming operation. He is hoarding seed and slaughtering dozens of head of livestock. 

Basil tells his father that he and his friends of the party cell are going to put an end to the rich farmers.  They will get tractors.  But his father is a little old school and he is not enthusiastic about collectivization.  The guys from the party cell show up and try to win over Basil's dad, who grudgingly gives them some  respect.  The fellows go off to get the new tractor.  The collective farm families all come out to await the arrival of the tractor.  They are extremely excited over the actual arrival.  Basil drives the tractor.  With the tractor leading the way, the farmers produce a great deal of wheat that they fully process to the actual backing of the bread loaves. 

Thomas is one of the rich, independent farmers.  He learns that Basil has plowed up his fence with the tractor and becomes very angry.  Basil is so happy at the results produced as the result of the tractor that he dances down the dirt roads of the village.  Suddenly he collapses in a heap.  He has been killed, but it is not known by whom.  Basil's father asks a number of young men if they killed his son.  He asks Thomas, but he also says no.  Basil's father is so angry that he even rejects God and the local clergyman. 

The entire collection of collective farmers and their families show up for the funeral.  It is a non-traditional ceremony for no clergyman is present.  From afar Thomas shouts at them "It's my earth.  I won't give it up."   The clergyman in his church asks God to put a curse on the farmers.  Thomas appears to be going crazy.  He shouts at the people: "Hey, poor people!  It's me." 

The funeral simply continues.  It is said that "With a communist steel horse, Basil overturned the thousand-year-old forces."  Thomas shouts his confession that it was he who killed Basil. 

Life goes on. 


The critics use the term idyllic to characterize life on the collective farms.  I don't see it that way.  The community, which includes the rich farmers, is at war with itself.  It is divided by class conflict.  The collective farmers even refer to the rich ones as "our class enemy."  The divisions are so strong that Basil gets killed for trying to compete with the rich farmers.  Does that sound idyllic?  I don't think so.

And the movie is of the type that so many people make fun of.  One of the big heroes of the film is the tractor itself.  It's great that they can produce more wheat and compete more with the rich farmers, but there's more to life than this.  The critics say he did emphasize the everyday activities of the people and their interrelationships with each other.  I just don't see it.  I didn't particularly like the film.  (For the parents out there, the movie does have some nude scenes of the distraught fiancÚ of Basil.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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