DERSU UZULA

(1975 - Japanese - Russian)
With Maksim Munzak, Yuri Solomin
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Reviewed by JB

Me and My Pal     1970's DODESKADEN was a critical and box-office failure, and a planned co-directing position on the film TORA! TORA! TORA! ended in humiliation for Kurosawa.  After several years of personal and artistic turmoil, years which included an attempted suicide, Kurosawa eagerly accepted an offer from Mosfilms to make a movie in Russia.  With typical disregard for resting on his laurels and repeating past successes, Kurosawa instead realized one of his dreams and fashioned a film about the true-life exploits of a hunter and guide named Dersu Uzula, as chronicled in the diaries of Captain Vladimir Arseniev, a Russian surveyor of the early 1900s. 

     In the first half of the film, covering an excursion of 1901, Arseniev meets Dersu and hires him as a guide for an  exploration of parts of Siberia.  Dersu, who has lived in the forest for years, teaches Arseniev and his men how man must respect nature to survive its awesome power.  In the second half,  Captain Arseniev meets up again with an older, faltering Dersu in 1907.  His eyes failing, his mind wandering, Dersu is no longer able to live in the wild, yet, as shown when Arseniev brings him back to the city, the hunter cannot live in civilization either.  Yuri Solomin is a fine "Cap-i-tan" but it is Maksim Munzak's splendid performance as the wise, backwards-talking Dersu who holds the film together. (If anybody is looking for more Kurosawa influences in George Lucas's STAR WARS series, just consider the elfish Dersu as the forerunner to Yoda).  The friendship, respect and love that grows between the two men over the years makes DERSU UZULA as warm-hearted as RED BEARD, though far less ham-fisted than that film and the later DREAMS in making its case about man's place in the world.

     DERSU UZULA is one of Kurosawa's most leisurely paced films, with the director hanging on to certain shots and scenes to a point where you want to just grab the film in the projector and physically pull it forward two thousand frames or so (or, I guess, press the fast-forward button).  Yet DERSU UZULA may have you thinking for days after about certain characters and scenes, especially the tragic irony of the final moments of the movie.

     DERSU UZULA was the success the previous DODESKADEN was not, winning several major awards around the world including Best Foreign Language Film in America.  Despite the duel handicaps of not knowing how to speak Russian and working in an unfamiliar country with a non-Japanese cast, Kurosawa re-established his artistic reputation.  Unfortunately, DERSU UZULA did not re-establish his career.  It would be five more years before he would make his next film. ½ - JB

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