"The way of the world is west," but true explorers push the other way. The screen is split sideways in the meditative overture, "the path of the sun" begins with an endless line of silhouetted camels dotting the horizon. Out of the Anatolian desert and towards the Iranian meadow, that’s the Bakhtiari tribe’s trajectory, a trio of adventurous Yanks is there to photograph it. The tiny caravan suddenly caught in a sand storm is recalled by Kurosawa (Dersu Uzala), nocturnal repose before the trek showcases the striped arches of Mesopotamian architecture illuminated by a single torch. A zigzagging march through the Taurus Mountains, tribesmen and Bedouins in the dunes, the Arab police captain who enjoys his gesticulations for the camera. Ravenous for elemental majesty, Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison feast on imposing landscapes as well as on the impassive visage of nomad chief Haidar Khan, who, posed with smoking pipe and taqiyah cap, is as commanding as William S. Hart. The Karun River is the great challenge, some of the most remarkable footage has the milky currents voraciously gobbling up rafts and animals. "Even the pioneers of the covered wagon days never thought of this!" Arid and frigid expanses, plains and precipices, cinema as a panorama of wide contrasts. Finally, the grueling expedition through the Zardeh-Kuh sub-range, onwards barefoot into fierce snow, nothing less than "a battle with Fate." Waiting on the other side are golden steppes for the Bakhtiari, and an affidavit proudly signed for the scrappy filmmakers. A friendly rivalry with Flaherty informs the venture, a record of vital importance for Rouch, Herzog, Güney, et al. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce