Dersu Uzala Reviews
The first half of the film is stunning. The wilderness shots look insanely good and Kurosawa definitely knows how to capture a sunset. In fact, one of the most beautiful shots in the film has the hunter explaining to a Russian soldier how important both the sun and the moon are.
However, it's the second half where the problems begin to start. The first expedition ends and it feels like this is where the movie should end, too. This is not the case. The second half is just less interesting than the first. It goes on for far too long and it takes its toll on a viewing audience. A subplot of how the hunter can't adjust to city life is fine and all, but it's just done in a rather dull way here.
There is quite a bit to admire, mostly the scenery, but the fact that the second half is weaker than the first really does harm the film.
Worst things - pace is slow, doesn't build up. End sort of unresolved.
Storyline-aside, it is another Kurosawa's awesome visual spectacle, a tremendous field shooting endeavor, epitomizes by the sun-moon co-existence with solemn placidness, furthermore, it is a hymn to mother nature, Dersu personifies as the harmonious co-habitant of the mighty wilderness, a sublime soul with well-versed survival skills, on the contrary to my recent watched documentary TOUCHING THE VOID (2003, 8/10), DERSU UZALA owns a purer and more admirable prospect, instead of conquering the insurmountable to chase a spur of glory and invincibility, it is far more intrepid and unpretentious to be a part of it with reverence and be respectful to its law and act, in addition to its indefatigable undertone against industrialized modernism (it is the brand-new rifle, a token of friendship, actually wreaks the somber demise of Dersu).
Strictly speaking, there is merely two characters in the film, Dersu (Munzuk) and the Russian Captain (Solomin), a bond is tenably formed through their expedition in the wild, from lush jungle to walking-on-the-thin-ice frozen river, the life-saving bravado during a squalling night when they lost their track on a snow land or a torrent peril, Kurosawa moulds a great range of topography with taut excitement where it is required. The character study of Dersu also is been executed through the observation and the interaction from Captain (viewers' proxy), who is enthralled by Dersu's simple yet ethereal nature, a rare bird may or may not be extinct now. The dual-acting from Munzuk and Solomin is the fruit of naturalistic emancipation and unassuming engagement.
Also a memorable presence is Isaak Shvarts's accompanying score segues from lithe to menacing, eerie to sonorous, with Russian folklore and shanty as well.
Being a Chinese, I cannot avoid mentioning the sensitive timing (after China and Japan's rapprochement in 1972 and China and Soviet Union's dispute in 1969) of the film-making, which prompted an accusation from Chinese government concerns a so-called political libel on Chinese people, mainly by vilifying Hunhutsi (which literally means red beard in Mandarin) as the villain and the nature-balance defier. But honestly, this episode is largely overstated since there is no direct confrontation at all in the film, at least for my compatriots, don't let this smokescreen blinds your eyes, DERSU UZALA is a spirited ethnological oeuvre could inspire whoever has a chance to watch it, preferably on a big screen or at least a BluRay edition.
There isn't much of a plot. Really only vignettes of this man born and raised in the wilderness guiding Russian surveyors in the wilderness and how his view of life differs from his companions. For 2.5 hours, a philosophical back and forth isn't all that compelling (had to finish this in two sittings). The tragic end of the story picks up a lot more though and gives a suitably reverent and appropriate closing to the story.
Although this was filmed in 70mm and Kurosawa's second color picture, the transfer on the DVD is terrible and doesn't do the sweeping landscapes and forests any justice. This needs a blu-ray transfer badly, but I doubt it will get one even though Kurosawa won an Oscar for it.
It's not a feature that gets mentioned very often in Kurosawa's oeuvre and honestly...I can see why. Not that it's bad, just nowhere near as compelling as his other films. Probably only recommended to Kurosawa completists.