1 01 2012

Dersu Uzala

A Haiku In Motion

This is what happens when you put a Japanese film director, and not just a director but an artist and a master of his craft, to work with authentic and unique Russian material – you get Dersu Uzala, an Oscar winning gem of the foreign cinematography of the XXth century.

From the first scenes it becomes clear that this is going to be an intimate, introspective, organic and at the same time dynamic and outwardly reflective experience.

The sequence of shots reveals the director’s design and his desire to establish moments of truth in each one of them. More so, there’s poetry in each minute, in each dialogue – and the monologue of the narrator – the poetry distinctly Japanese, deserving the canvas of Yosa Buson and the heritage of Issa and Basho. Haiku.

It’s always a wonder for me to discover how the director managed to create haiku in motion (doesn’t happen often!), putting so much into so little. The expressive power of Dersu Uzala and its simplistic nature is the key.

Traditionally, haiku is played out on a juxtaposition of two elements. Usually it’s all about the concept of something deep and infinite, and its reflection in something ordinary, only seemingly insignificant.

To achieve this effect in a movie, the director needs to remove all non-essential attributes out of the shot. Each scene should be clean, devoid of the mess and rush, similar to meditation. Important is to keep the story focused and characters evolving, growing.

What surprised me most about Dersu Uzala is the way nearly every scene in the film could be cut out and placed in a frame, in a museum or on the wall of a tasteful art collector. Amazing photography, very subtle touch and a very refined camera work. Nature, human presence, technology, socio-political components – all that was also reflected masterfully in voices, facial expressions, costumes, body language.

Drawing the bottom line, what did Akira Kurosawa teach me in Dersu Uzala? Above all, the appreciation of the human link and the eternal value of love.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

Watch Dersu Uzala trailer

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