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Milestone Film & Video presents
La Terre (1921)

"What's going on? Why is it that you're all so nice to me all of a sudden?"
- Père Fouan (Armand Bour)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: December 30, 2003

Stars: Armand Bour, René Alexandre, Germaine Rouer, Jean Hervé
Other Stars: Milo, Berthe Bory, Jeanne Briey, Jeanne Grumbach
Director: André Antoine

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, attempted rape)
Run Time: 01h:37m:58s
Release Date: December 09, 2003
UPC: 014381197525
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-C-B+ C-

DVD Review

Director André Antoine was something of a late bloomer. After a successful career in the theater, he turned to cinema at age 60 in the 1910s and made a short series of features. One of the most renowned of this set is La Terre (The Earth), based on Emile Zola's novel of the same name.

Père Fouan (Armand Bour), a farmer near Chartres in the late 19th century, has decided that he is getting too old to farm his land and decides to divide it up amongst this three children in return for a pension of 800 francs. But the children are greedy and untrustworthy and immediately set out to cheat papa. Son Buteau (Jean Hervé) is a violent lout, while Hyacinthe (also known for unexplained reasons as Jesus-Christ, played by Milo) is a drunken wastrel with a trouble-making daughter La Trouille (Berthe Bory). When the elder Fouan grows ill his children are reluctant to take him in until they learn that he has a bit of money stashed away; only then do they treat him well as they scheme to wrest it away from him.

Antoine rather anticipates the neorealism movement in cinema with this grim tableau. The rustic life is completely stripped of any pastoral romanticizations and exposed as the earthy and often brutal way of life that it is. Even the more sympathetic characters, Bateau's sister-in-law Françoise (Germaine Rouer) and her beau Jean (René Alexandre) are less than wholesome and willing to take advantage of the misfortunes of others. Bateau is easily the worst, robbing and cheating his own father and repeatedly attempting to rape Françoise, sometimes in front of his wife Lise. The story is really set in action by the foolish actions of Fouan, who like King Lear believes too fondly that his children will appreciate his largesse.

The cinematography is often very striking; particularly of note is the climactic sequence as Père Fouan aimlessly wanders over the fields that were once his, but now homeless, ill and broken. Although he truly loves the earth, as shown by several delicate closeups of hands holding soil, it is not a love that his children share. They are completely obsessed with obtaining money and drink, unappreciative of the land itself beyond the immediate comforts it can provide for them. The acting is generally quite restrained, with a naturalistic air for the most part (except for Bory, who gesticulates and mugs like mad). Bour is excellent in the lead and the supporting cast fits their parts well.

For a time thought to be a lost film, La Terre surfaced in a print from the Russian film archive, Gosfilmofond. Although not quite complete (some segments featuring a third child seem to be missing, and a few transitions are rather abrupt), this is nonetheless a powerful and moving piece of cinema that presages both the grim outlook of Murnau in Germany and Italian neorealists. Though the description may sound over the top, it's not too far removed from altogether too many families today.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture has its ups and downs. Like other Kevin Brownlow Photoplay presentations of this era (1991), it suffers from fairly extreme ghosting as a result of a botched video transfer. Two out of every five frames have a bit of double exposure effect and significant blurring on motion. When the picture is calm, the result is clear and detailed, but when there is rapid action on the screen (and there is quite a bit here) then the clear picture deteriorates into a smeary mess. It's too bad that a new NTSC transfer couldn't have been done for this, since the photography is terrific and the print seems to be in excellent shape with only minor frame damage visible. Contrasts are a bit high at times, and edge enhancement is frequently distracting by creating rings around dark objects. In all, a less than happy video presentation that could have been much better.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)no

Audio Transfer Review: A 2.0 Surround music track scored by Adrian Johnston is provided. It has an intriguing combination of folklike melodies and slightly atonal background music (that sometime sounds a tad too nervous for the onscreen proceedings), using a small orchestra with piano. Despite some moderate hiss, the sound is quite pleasing, with good bass and a wide soundstage. The winds come across very well, particularly the bass clarinet, which feels like it's right in the room.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
  2. Text interview
Extras Review: In addition to a small slideshow of ten stills, there is a 10-page .pdf supplement that includes production notes and a fairly substantial 1991 text interview of star Germaine Rouer by Kevin Brownlow. This interview touches on both the making of La Terre and her work with Louis Feuillade, making it an interesting bit of filmic history. A filmography for Rouer is also included in this supplement.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A powerful and disturbing classic film on greed and materialism, with an appropriate musical score but iffy video transfer. Worth a look nonetheless.


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