Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dursu Uzula


Dursu Uzula is a film in Russian made in Siberia by master Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in 1975. The plot is simple and goes as follows: Russian soldiers are exploring/mapping the wild far-east of their territory in 1902, by chance they encounter a trapper named Dursu Uzula who in turn becomes their guide.

Dursu is an Asiatic indigenous man of the region, in the parlance of the time he is known as a Goldi. I am assuming that this is a term for a certain ethnic group of the region, possibly a term used only in the early 1900’s; regardless of the actual meaning, the sound of the name casts Dursu (movie and character) in the right light… I conceive of it more as a title, Dursu is the Goldi because his precise knowledge and way of being is approaching its “golden years” in the rapidly modernizing world.

He is golden like leaves in partial decay, or the afternoon sun on an icy lake (frozen in the night, and thawing in the mid-day). This Goldi is a man of autumn, because he is the keeper of knowledge and awareness that was so rapidly in decline even in the early 1900’s.

With perfect knowledge of place Dursu is woven into the land, surviving by (what seems now to be) a super-sense of deep ecology that was already receding. The time of indigenous people, even in far-flung places, was almost over, and much of their ancient wisdom lost. Dursu sees this loss reflected in the attitudes of the Russian men he leads through the forest; he often mocks the soldiers comparing them to children because they notice so little.

Dursu meanwhile expresses expansive awareness and compassion for all beings, living and non-living, referring to all things in broken Russian as “men”. He expresses concern that stretches well beyond himself and his immediate situation, revealed in a scene where he repairs an abandoned shack in the forest and fills it with dry wood, matches, and rice, on the off-chance that someone will pass the hut and be in need.

His awareness too is far reaching, it reaches, in fact, beyond the limits of the land he knows, even this planet. Dursu (pointing to the sun): “this men is most important men, he dies, all men die…” (then pointing to the moon) “this men is also very important.” Dursu seems to know the truth: we are all in all.

Despite Dursu’s rich knowledge of place, the fragility of man is painted across this picture, as are notions of loss, and pain. Even when we are one with the wild, the world is still full of danger, and suffering arises anew. But we strive and strive and strive. By including fear and darkness this film dodges the sappy over-glorification/de-humanization of the indigenous man, Dursu is not set apart from the sufferings and sorrows of modern men… sorrow it seems is timeless and universal.

Lovely too in this movie is the dear friendship that develops between Dursu and the Russian Captain/Cartographer. The Captain’s reverence for Dursu is shown again and again in the film, and although he lacks the wild wisdom of the Goldi, the Captain is a compassionate and gentle spirit too, which brings in a hopeful view for this future-past. Although we loose some of our ways (and maybe even we loose our way entirely) the human heart is still ancient and good.

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