(02/04/07) – (DERSU UZALA. Dir: Akira Kurosawa. With Yuri Solomin and Maksim Munzuk. Russia, 1975. Released by Artificial Eye.)
One of the great things about Akira Kurosawa was his generosity. Despite the art-cinema clout his name carries, his films are not flattened by intensive intellectual demands. What he wanted to show, he would put on the screen.
And generosity of spirit abounds in Dersu Uzala (pictured), one of his best known films, out on DVD now with extras that include an interview with the actor who plays the Russian explorer Vladimir Arseniev, Yuri Solomin, a studio-produced behind-the-scenes featurette and a biography of Arseniev, whose memoirs was the basis for the film (the story is set against the backdrop of an expedition led by Arseniev). Kurosawa found in Arseniev’s encounter with the nomadic tribesman Derzu Uzala, who lived wildly and happily in the wilderness of the Siberian frontier, the perfect material around which to compose an ode to Pantheist communion with nature.
Dersu Uzala is played with soulful authenticity by Maksim Munzuk, an acting creation of the highest calibre. Munzuk toys with, but never succumbs to, the image of the ‘noble savage’, thus adding a touch of whimsical lightness to his Dersu. Like Arseniev, the viewer falls in love with this man who symbolises the universal craving to return to nature, despite evidence this is no longer possible, as the film illustrates with bittersweet frankness. It is also a film about friendship, a theme that the big screen doesn’t address often enough. Like Bergman, Kurosawa had an uncanny gift to turn simplicity into the richest and most haunting visual poems. Dersu Uzala is an exquisite example of humanism with an ecological message.
(THE PAGE TURNER. Dir: Denis Dercourt. With Deborah Francois and Catherine Frot. France, 2006. Released by Artificial Eye.)
The Page Turner is a French take on the niponic template of the revenging female, except that in this case it is a case of female against female. Still, the fear of castration that often pervades Japanese horror fuelled by revenge (as in the terrifying Audition (1999)) can perhaps be found subtextually here, if we think of someone’s aborted career as a pianist as a kind of metaphoric castration.
So what’s the story? A big cliché, in the very French sense of the word, although despite the lack of originality, the film works well because director Denis Dercourt found in Deborah François the perfect type for his Calvinist-looking ice machine Melanie and in Catherine Frot the perfect victim as the pianist Ariane Foucherot. By adding the lesbian element as the platform for revenge and ruin, Dercourt leaves the door open for accusations of homophobia, but he just about manages to get away with that.
The plot is simple and the mise-en-scene as minimalist as a Prada shop. A girl who failed her piano audition to get into the conservatory seeks revenge on the panellist who in her perception caused her to fail. Cut to ten years later and she finds a job at said panellist’s husband’s law firm and then manages to get into their domestic world where she proceeds to exact her revenge. The situations whereby she manages to create her web of revenge are far-fetched to say the least but they work for a film that is so stylised. Another fine point is the film’s length. It runs for 85 minutes and there is not one scene too many. Verdict: The Page Turner is a lean, forgettable film, but very enjoyable to watch.
Derzu Uzala is out now. The Page Turner is released on Monday, 09 April. Please follow links provided to buy copies and support Kamera by doing so.