DVD Dersu Uzala
Master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa helms this touching story of a bond formed between two men in remotest Siberia. Maksim Munzuk stars as Dersu – an old hunter who decides to help a Russian expedition led by Yuri Solomin playing the Captain Arseniev. As the men forge paths across the wilderness, Kurosawa lets us drink in the magnificent scenery of this tranquil and simple story.
The story begins when old Dersu stumbles across a temporary camp set up by Arseniev. After a briefly confusing introduction, Dersu begins to talk his way into Arseniev’s good books. The more Dersu talks, the more Arseniev likes this honest, wise and sharp-shooting hunter. When the Captain learns of Dersu’s tragic past and his current loneliness, he asks Dersu to guide his expedition through Siberia. The hunter graciously accepts.
As the survey progresses, the men gain a profound respect for each other. Several incidents occur in which each man saves the other’s life. These bind the men together forever and in a way that no other human could hope to understand. Arseniev’s men watch amused as their Captain moves heaven and earth in order to accommodate Dersu after a brief time spent apart. The two men are at home together in these desolate areas, for they are the only places where they can be truly free.
Eventually, Dersu’s body begins to fail him as a result of his age. Arseniev lets him stay at his home. While initially grateful for this, Dersu finds that the quiet city life is not for him. The film concludes by focusing on the conflicts between metropolitan life and the life of living off the land…
By keeping the story simple, Kurosawa effectively magnifies the strength of the relationship between Dersu and Arseniev. No artificial drama comes into effect to move unnecessary plots forward. The film is content to drift along as the two men continue on this expedition. The camera is often far away from the action and often portrays the scenery as dwarfing the human cast. Kurosawa is keen to make us notice the scale of the bond shared by Dersu and Arseniev. Their respect and understanding is as large as the mountainous forest that surrounds them and almost as unbreakable.
By keeping the story simple, Kurosawa effectively magnifies the strength of the relationship between Dersu and Arseniev.
Given the tranquil and sedate tone that accompanies most of the film, there is the tendency to suggest that it is boring. This is not the truth, by any means. Enough perils and trials occur so as to keep the film gripping, and there is one stunningly tense sequence when Dersu and Arseniev find themselves lost in open wilderness just as a horrid storm approaches. Mother Nature binds these men together as much as it is ready to tear them apart, whether that happens via snow storms, tigers, rivers or penetrating fogs. These men are fighting nature just as much as they are celebrating it, and this yin-yang parallel creates an overall sense of self-fulfilment for the pair.
Character development goes well beyond the ‘bromance’ that Dersu and Arseniev share. Dersu is a heartbreakingly tragic figure. His entire family, and town, died as a result of smallpox. He has absolutely no-one. It is gut-wrenching to see him and the Captain part for a while halfway through the film. As he waddles up a mountainside, laboured by provisions, old and lonely, it is impossible not to feel any sort of sympathetic emotion towards this selfless man. The film could be at flaw for over-romanticising Dersu, but given that we see almost everything from the Captain’s viewpoint, it makes sense to make him as heroic as possible. There is also a flipside to this personality. As the film progresses, we learn of Dersu’s overly superstitious ways. He can’t let anything pass without attaching some sort of omen to it. Kurosawa is keen to explore the negatives of Dersu’s life as well as the positives and this creates a brilliantly-rounded feeling that lasts until the end.
Performances are solid and well crafted throughout. Munzuk walks an excellent line as he plays Dersu. He never seems to be too aware of how high a regard his character is kept in, and so a wonderful honestly accompanies his performance. Solomin had to deal with the ever present danger of his Captain being seen as bland. Thankfully, this is not the case. He approaches the role with a sense of tender nobility. This Russian captain is just as emotional, open and flawed as Dersu is. He commands his men with authority, but is not afraid to show humility when it is needed of him. Everything about these performances, and the performances of the supporting cast, are right on target.
The soundtrack is a brilliant complement to the film as a whole. Musical score is well placed, adding emotion to all the key scenes. In moments of tension, the soundtrack all but disappears. When Dersu or Arseniev are in danger, it is not dramatic music that is heard but rather the seemingly diegetic sounds of what is actually trying to kill them. Formidable realism looms its head when the two men remember that they are constantly battling for survival here, and the score is brilliantly used to emphasise this fact.
Emotional and thoughtful in equal measure, Kurosawa succeeds in this brilliantly told yet lesser-known tale. He captures a comprehensive view of an almost extinct way of life and yet, somehow, is never too romanticising of it. Certain aspects of Dersu’s choice of living are condemned, while others are outright celebrated. We feel like the Captain as he pores through the old photographs of his dear friend, remembering the past with rose-tinted spectacles.
See The Film For Yourself!
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