This movie is probably the reason that most people will buy the Blu-ray version of the War trilogy, being as it is the most famous of Dovzhenko’s work from that period, and certainly his most polished and controversial, as well as his most emotionally edifying.
Made in response to Stalin’s plans for collectivisation throughout the Soviet Union, Earth is about peasants owning their own land and tilling it as they please, for themselves, and the problems they come across in the process. This caused the film to be controversial in its day, but one almost universally acknowledged as being of great beauty.
The dialogue, while never great in silent films, consists almost entirely of communist buzzwords as smiling peasants evangelise about the wonders of collectivisation and forced group production. Again, Dovzhenko’s skill is shown in the way he manipulates the language and style of those in power to suit his own ends. In his previous two movies, machinery and industrialisation was treated for the most part as a bad thing; it was seen as the state encroaching on man’s relationship with the land. But in Earth it’s as Dovzhenko’s intention all along was to provide a three act structure, in across three films, with a final kiss-off, in Earth, of how great the country could be if the peasants were allowed to continue tilling their own land.
The relationship between man and land is one that Dovzhenko has explored through all three films, but nowhere is this theme more complicated than in Earth. The peasants work and rely on the land for sustenance, but are stuck in their ways. One long scene preaching the virtues of the humble tractor, running for a great portion of the entire film, is parodic in its use of propagandistic images (smiling peasant women wrapping ears of corn as men with stern faces concentrate on the business of harvesy) and sound (joyful piano accompanied by a sprightly brass section, to show how much easier everything is with a tractor).
At one point, when the tractor breaks down momentarily (horror of horrors!), the peasants actually urinate in the radiator to get it running again, solidifying the link between man, the machine, and the land that he tills. In this film, and at this time, all three working together for themselves should be the ideal, in a notable reversal of the Communist system.
It’s surprising the film got made at all, given the oppressive system of the time that stifled, for instance, certain films by Andrei Tarkovsky working decades later. We can only be glad that that it did, because the film is a masterpiece that is wonderful not only because of its political message, but for the gleeful love that Dovzhenko clearly has for his countrymen, their history and customs.