Sunday, October 07, 2012

Zemlya v plenu / [Earth in Chains]

Земля в плену / Zemlja v plenu / The Yellow Ticket [La terra prigioniera]. (Mezhrabpom-Rus, SU 1927 [the year announced on the print] / 1928). D, SC: Fyodor Otsep; DP: Louis Forestier; AD: Sergei Kozlovskii; ass D: Albert Gendelshtein, Naya Dobrianskaya; C: Anna Sten (Maria), Ivan Koval-Samborskii (Yakov, retired soldier), Mikhail Narokov (Belskii, landowner), Anel Sudakevich (Anya, his daughter), Vladimir Fogel (his son-in-law), Piotr Baksheyev (doorman), Sofia Yakovleva (Katerina), Nikolai Batalov (Maria’s fellow villager), Konstantin Gradopolov (Maria’s baby), Vera Maretskaya (prostitute), Daniil Vvedenskii (bailiff and visitor of the brothel), Mikhail Zharov (dancer in the brothel), Sofia Levitina (lady looking for a servant), Inna Fyodorova (peasant woman), Ivan Chuveliov (peasant); filmed: 1927; rel: 7.2.1928; 35 mm, 2022 m, 80' (22 fps); print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia. Russian intertitles. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Anna Sten), with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Andrew Simpson, 7 Oct 2012.

Sergei Kapterev: "Some of the most significant moments of Anna Sten’s life and career were inseparable from those of Fyodor Otsep, one of the principal figures at Moscow’s Mezhrabpom-Rus Studios. Besides their cinematic collaborations, there were also strong rumors of a romantic relationship."

"Otsep entered Soviet cinema with pre-revolutionary experience in film journalism and scriptwriting, and occupied several positions within the new bureaucratic apparatus. More importantly, he became the artistic supervisor and scenarist at the Rus company, which in 1924 was incorporated with the film bureau of the International Workers’ Aid (Mezhrabpom) organization, established in Germany to assist Soviet Russia, to form Mezhrabpom-Rus. The newly established structure was oriented towards propagating Soviet ideals and achievements, while preserving, in the words of actress Aleksandra Khokhlova, “pre-revolutionary commercial traditions”. With his inclination for commercially successful, mass-appeal cinema, Otsep became a major contributor to the studio’s success, mostly via his talent for screenwriting; he directed less frequently."

"Earth in Chains was Sten’s second major role and Otsep’s second directorial effort, as well as his last fully Soviet production. His first film, co-directed with Boris Barnet, was the 3-part adventure story Miss Mend (1926), which characteristically combined some superficial references to the new ideology with more traditional entertainment methods. After his next film, Der lebende Leichnam / Zhivoi Trup, a 1929 Soviet-German adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s play The Living Corpse, Otsep continued his career in Germany, adapting to new audiences and striving to implement his vision of commercially viable and “civilized” cinema. Sten also found herself abroad, starring in Otsep’s first sound film, another adaptation of a Russian literary classic, Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff (1931), based on Dostoevsky’s novel. In 1943 their paths crossed again in wartime Hollywood when Otsep co-directed Sten in Three Russian Girls, a remake of a patriotic Soviet film."

"Earth in Chains opens with a lyrical shot of a rural landscape – one of the images of nature which systematically punctuate the film’s narrative – and develops into a drama of human cynicism and degradation under the Tsarist regime, and irreparable class conflicts and contrasts between the village and the city."

"Sten’s role is central to the film’s theme. Her acting aims to outline the development of a character from innocence to her downfall and then back to innocence. Her exotic persona – accentuated in some episodes by her ethnic Russian garb – and palpable charm are offset by the more subdued acting of Ivan Koval-Samborskii, who underplays the potentially melodramatic role of Sten’s abandoned husband with tact and grace."

"Louis Forestier, an early Gaumont cameraman who moved to Russia in 1910 and became one of the country’s first cinematographers, is responsible for the dramatic close-ups of Sten’s face: reflecting the ordeals of her existence, these are “portraits” of anxiety rather than beauty. The atmosphere of anxiety is further emphasized by the sets designed by Sergei Kozlovskii, another veteran of Russian and Soviet cinema who contributed to the best Mezhrabpom productions, including the famous Pudovkin trilogy. In Earth in Chains, Kozlovskii’s understanding of the film’s theme is especially evident in the expressive – if not expressionist – images of the urban milieu, the epitome of loneliness and despair."

"In spite of negative critical reactions against the film’s “bourgeois” clichés presented under the guise of social analysis, Earth in Chains was a commercial success. It also demonstrated characteristics of Otsep’s personal style, formed, it may be claimed, under the influence of his more prominent Mezhrabpom colleague Vsevolod Pudovkin: mastery of the mise-en-scène, fragmentary but powerful lyrical landscapes or symbolic inserts (for example, shots of land plots “captured” by landlords with barbed wire), shots of explosions, and the significance of “insignificant” objects, such as a soda siphon or the ribbons of a woman’s dress."

"For Sten, Earth in Chains opened an important phase in her career. It brought her popularity both within the Soviet Union and abroad (where the film played under the title The Yellow Ticket), due to the export value of the film’s exotic sensationalism and Mezhrabpom’s useful connections in non-Soviet film markets." – SERGEI KAPTEREV

AA: Anna Sten rises up to the challenge in a leading role in one of her first movies. Despite the English release title The Yellow Ticket this is not based on the Michael Morton play that was filmed many times by Raoul Walsh among others. This is a story of bitter social injustice in Czarist Russia. The rich land-owners give the young couple a piece of stony land in a ravine, and as the compensation they require Maria as their wet nurse as their baby is born. They lie about the messages in Yakov's letters and forge totally misleading letters from the illiterate Maria to Yakov. Yakov loses their land and when Maria is fired she is caught in a militia roundup and given the yellow passport of a prostitute. With nowhere else to go Maria actually becomes a prostitute, and at the brothel she meets a fellow villager via whose mediation she returns home where Yakov has become crippled in a mining disaster. Memorable aspects include: everything stops at harvesting time on Yakov's return from the military; barbed wire surrounding the landowner's property; lyrical images of pioneer work at the stony field; the huge dairy of the landowner; Maria's helplessness with table manners; Vladimir Fogel tries to take Maria by force; the night-time roundup of the streetwalkers; the ignorant Maria showing her yellow passport at the employment office; the twisted mirror at the brothel; Maria's absent look as a prostitute; Nikolai Batalov as the villager who recognizes Maria at the brothel; the explosion where Yakov is crippled; the final springtime optimism on Maria's return: they will never be defeated. The visual quality varies but is often enough quite good.

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