‘Man is very small before the face of nature.’
I do strongly believe that the great films and great literature made us think and transform us to a better human being in whatsoever small or large amount. Dersu Uzala is an enriching experience and an unforgettable film by the emperor of Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa. It is a simple, beautiful and moving tale of selfless friendship and unusual humanity and indeed a graceful comeback of the Master who attempted suicide prior to making of this when his last film’s debacle made him so pessimistic towards life. The film not only built confidence and reputation of the Master by winning Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but also appreciated all over the world by the audience and critics unanimously.
It begins with opening of 20th century where a Russian Military officer and his troop in their surveying expedition to Siberian forest met a strange old nomadic tribal hunter named Dersu who knew the forest like no other. Soon he became their helping guide. He’s such a rare and selfless man that it’s almost hard to find another like him on this earth. After saving the captain's life under heavy snowstorm one night, he became a good friend of captain. But the soon the mission ended and the captain and his troop caught a train bidding farewell to Dersu with hope to meet him again. The first part ends with this note.
They do meet again and this time the captain saved his life but Kurosawa’s point of the film lies in the last thirty minutes of the film. He shows Dersu’s helplessness to settle in the city of civilized men. He can’t sleep outside, cut trees, hunt animals; instead stayed in a room where he didn’t get enough air. ‘How can men live in a box?’ is a big question for him. It made all of us think about the contrast between the two lives- one led by the noble savage Dersu who worships nature with all innocence and simplicity in the lap of the forest as a hunter. Soldiers laughed at him as he considered everything around him as alive as human and had a talk with them like a spirit whether it’s the sun or a tiger. We feel the paradoxical underpinnings when he first time spared few days in city with his captain-friend’s family. It is civilized men of cities who draw lines of borders with their power and plunder the freely gifted natural resources and fixed a price for everything from water to wood and fruits to meat. They made rules for everything and categorized them in general as acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The satirical punch of the film came in the climax where we come to know whereabouts of the new gifted rifle given to him by the captain.
From fine wide angle landscapes to brilliant use of light, colors and shades, the film has aesthetically rich cinematography where nature is captured in all its moods and seasons like a sweeping poetry. My favorite frame is one where Dersu and the captain watching both the sun and the moon at dusk. Maxim Munzuk as Dersu is as unforgettable and natural character that it instantly became one of my favorite movie characters of all time. The only other actor whom I find as natural as him is Bruno S. in Herzog’s two masterpieces- ‘Stroszek’ and ‘The Enigma of Kasper Hauser’.
A touching elegy on human heritage.