Cast: Stepan Shkurat, Semyon Svashenko, Yuliya Solntseva, Yelena Maksimova, Nikolai Nademsky
SUMMARY: Village elder Simon Opanas (Stephan Shkurat) dies peacefully in a field after spending his entire life as a farmer, using oxen and manual labor to plant and harvest. However, his death signals a change: some of the locals, including Simon’s own grandson Basil (Semyon Svashenko), are in favor of collectivization. In addition to taking power away from the rich local landowners (kulaks), this will allow them to get a tractor. Needless to say, the kulaks are against the idea of collectivization. Basil’s own father (Nikolai Nademsky) vacillates between the two sides, despite his son’s fervent enthusiasm. The collectivization does happen, and a tractor is brought in to help the locals. It allows them to dramatically increase their production, and reduces the time needed to accomplish tasks. After finishing work one evening, Basil is dancing down a dark road when he is attacked and killed by an unknown assailant. His father is devastated, and demands that the killer make himself known. Nobody comes forward, and his father declares that there isn’t a God. He rejects the old, religious burial rites and instead asks Basil’s friends to bury him without religious figures or songs. The friends do this, joined by a large number of villagers; however, the local priest asks God to smite the people, and Basil’s fiancee (Yelena Maksimova) stays home in a fit of grieving. During the funeral, the son of one of the kulaks arrives and announces that he killed Basil, as part of his resistance to collectivization. However, the villagers completely ignore him and instead focus on the speaker, who is preaching the virtues of communism and collectivization.
MY TAKE: This seemed like an hour’s worth of propaganda to me, so I was surprised to find that it was actually rejected by a number of Soviet officials (probably because there was some opposition shown to the idea of communism). Despite this, it wasn’t a horrible movie, but I had some trouble following it. It’s not very long, and I kinda feel like if it had been longer there would have been more time for character development. Had this been the case, I think it would have been easier to both identify and identify with the characters. Hindsight also plays a role: I knew before seeing this that collectivization did not end very well for the Soviet people forced to work the farms — they pretty much starved because all of their crops were taken away and sold. Obviously, the whole Communist state thing eventually failed too. The people in the film (the pro-collectivization ones, anyway) are very idealistic about the changes, which I suppose most people are when they think something good will happen. They get really excited about a tractor, but personally I wondered how much impact a single tractor could have on a farm worked by a huge group of people. Apparently Basil was an even bigger thing than the tractor, because when he died everybody flipped their lid. His father went nearly catatonic and rejected God (another aspect of communism, handily), the priest started raining curses on the villagers, and Basil’s fiancee got naked and threw a fit. I’m not sure why she had to be starkers to do this, but I’m glad she stayed in the house instead of joining the funeral procession. That might have disrupted the solemn atmosphere.
RATING: Hard to follow.