Dersu Uzala (1975)
Haunting Work Of Art.
15 February 2000
Think of Kurosawa, and, most likely, you will think first of his Samurai epics. However, his genius stands apart from any particular genre, and this film is a stunning case in point.

Faced with such unpromising material as a story about the friendship between a Russian army officer and an aging hunter, set in Siberia in the early 1900's, most film-makers would run screaming for cover. Kurosawa revels in the story, and creates a true cinematic masterpiece.

While the heart of the film is the human relationship between the "Capitan" and Dersu, the main star of the film is the Siberian wilderness itself. Rarely can such loving care have been lavished on ensuring that the natural beauty of a location comes through onto the celluloid. Some of the scenes have to be seen to be believed: the group round the campfire with the river in the background and the wind whipping up; the sequence where the captain and Dersu have to cut reeds to make a shelter as night falls and a storm approaches; the night-time scene (I kid you not!) of the group dragging a sledge across an icy waste.

The simple story of exploration, man versus nature, and the evolution of a true friendship is both thought-provoking and deeply touching. The tiny Maksim Munzuk is superb as the title character and Yuri Solomin is a study of restraint in the role of Captain Vladimir Arseniev (upon whose actual journals the story is based).

This is one of those rare films that you can watch twice back-to-back, or at any time to restore your belief that, in addition to being a means of mass entertainment, movies really can be an art form as well.
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