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This review is from: Dersu Uzala  [DVD] (DVD)
As a devoted fan I feel obliged to give this film another deserving positive review. Some years ago I watched this film with my Father one Christmas and we were mesmerised. One of the few times we sat down to watch a film together, when everyone else had gone to bed. It was a shared experience that hushed us with its astonishing beauty. It does not have a complex plot. You simply sit back and enjoy the great Russian Taiga in all its weathers. Some of the cinematography is simply breathtaking. Visually this has to be the most beautiful film I have ever watched.
The film is one of Kurosawa's less well known works. It is very different to "The Seven Samurai" and "Ikiru", great films in their own right. A collaboration between Russia and Japan. Based on the enchanting true story "Dersu the Trapper", by the Russian cartographer V K Arseniev. Kurosawa and his crew filmed on location in Russia's Issuri region to bring this film home. Conditions at times were of Arctic ferocity as the crew battled against the elements. The results were worth it. Scene after sumptuous scene. The scene where Arseniev and Dersu race against time to build a shelter before the onset of night on frozen Lake Hanka is particularly memorable. There is also one astonishingly beautiful scene where the men are seen man hauling a sled over a frozen landscape into the burning embers of an emormous deep orange sunset.
The films story is simple enough. It concerns a friendship that develops between Arseniev who maps the pristine Taiga region of Russia in the early 1900s, and Dersu Uzala his local native Goldi guide. They are both good hearted men of principle. Dersu is selfless and puts others before himself. His kindness is repaid by good hearted Arseniev who takes Dersu into his own home when he ails. The two encounter adventures and enjoy the kinship of many a campfire together. Barriers of race and religion come tumbling down, to be replaced with friendship and respect between the two men. This friendship reminded me much of that between 'Hawkeye' and 'Chingachgook' in the Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper. They became true brothers of the wild places.
The film does in fact bear great similarity to a frontier Western and we see the Russian frontier change as its Western counterpart also did. Not always for the better! Arseniev himself had the good sense to die just before he was about to be arrested in the new Russia. His widow was shot on flimsy evidence as a Japanese spy. Many films have been called epics that are not. Sometimes they need something that cannot be clearly defined to fit that criteria. Dersu achieves it effortlessly. One important tip is to watch the film in the original sub titled Russian and not the awful American dubbed version which destroys the soul of a great film.
I have gone back to this film many times and it has a special place in my heart. You may have guessed already that it is a personal favourite, hence an unashamedly more personal review. I have watched a few films and many of my favourites would be amongst those selected by film critics. Perhaps not this one! Well film is personal and I am entitled to my aberrations. Watch it and enjoy keeping company with Arseniev and Dersu over the campfire, for they are the very best of companions!. Oh and the ending. No I will not spoil it. Watch the film yourself. Perhaps as a treat on a quiet Christmas night. My father is dead now, but the memory of that shared film experience and the fleeting companionship we shared with two good men was something never to be forgotten! Be enthralled!