Earth / Soil (1930)

Earth / Soil (1930)

“May we prosper with the machines!”

A peasant (Semyon Svashenko) whose father (Stepan Shkurat) prefers old-fashioned means of farming arrives in his Ukrainian town with a tractor purchased to help them collectivize — but a land-owning “kulak” (Ivan Franko) and his son (Pyotr Masokha) resist the transition, with lethal results.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Farmers
  • Russian Films
  • Silent Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “simply filmed, lyrical” film by Alexander Dovzhenko, “about the formation of a collective in a Ukrainian village” whose celebration of a tractor purchase is cut tragically short when a murder takes place, is a movie which “celebrates life”: while it “expresses grief for the recent dead, it is more concerned with rebirth than with the inevitable death.” Peary points out that Dovzhenko links “people to the soil…, the crops (there is dignity in work), [and] the farm animals.”

While “several scenes were [originally] deleted for foreign distribution” — including “the peasants cooling down the tractor with their urine (we see connection between man and machine)”:

… “Semyon’s grieving fiancee (Yelina Maximova) tearing off her clothes”:

… and “a woman giving birth at Semyon’s funeral”:

… these have now all been restored to the modern-day version one can easily find online. Peary concludes his review by noting this is “an optimistic film about people who refuse to be defeated by what might appear to be major setbacks.”

Peary’s review is all accurate, but viewers should be forewarned that this “landmark” film — like Dovzhenko’s Arsenal (1928) — is heavy on symbolic imagery, and short on narrative depth. We are vaguely introduced to characters who — appropriate for a collectivist society — represent an entire class of people rather than nuanced protagonists; what’s important here is the class struggle, not these individuals. With that caveat in mind, film fanatics will likely appreciate seeing the visual creativity on display, including ample use of montage and “painterly” close-ups.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Memorable imagery

  • Daniil Demutsky’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical significance in world cinema.


  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Earth / Soil (1930)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as a valuable example of early Soviet cinema.

    I’m rather in agreement with what’s already been said, so I’ve little to add. Surprisingly, the film moves along relatively quickly and (its lack of narrative notwithstanding) is not all that hard to follow (some ‘blanks’ can be filled in by the viewer – though, of course, a better understanding of period-Russian culture will help).

    Much of the imagery is intriguing / startling, and the last few minutes are lovely.

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