Thursday, December 16, 2010

Capsule Review: Pather Panchali (1955)

In some ways Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali - the first of his celebrated Apu Trilogy - is a film easier to respect than to enjoy, as its deliberately paced narrative (based on the semi-autobiographical book by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay) can be a little difficult to appreciate over the first hour, compounded by the obvious low budget. However, building on this slow movement - inspired by the Italian neorealism films of the late 40s/early 50s - Ray finds astounding beauty far away from the colorful romances usually represented in Indian cinema. The film details the trials of an impoverished Bengali family in the 1920s as they struggle against poverty and the elements, particularly focusing on the young Durga (Uma Dasgupta), Apu (Subir Banerjee) and their mother Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee). Sarbajaya finds herself desperately trying to keep her family from collapsing as her Harihar Ray (Kanu Banerjee) vanishes for months to look for work. Filming with an inexperienced cast and crew, Ray (and cinematographer Subrata Mitra) still manage to capture scenes full of awe, such as when the two children run through a field to catch their first ever glimpse of a train, or of Sarbajaya desperately trying to hold back a monsoon as Durga lays ill. Perhaps the film's greatest asset is Ravi Shankar's astounding score, which is consistently exhilarating. Followed by Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959).