For Reel


The Music Room (1958)
December 13, 2015, 11:47 pm
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Director: Satyajit Ray
4.5 Stars
The Music RoomThat The Music Room was released between Aparajito and Apur Sansur suggested the breadth of Satyajit Ray’s ambition, revealing the great Indian director’s interest in the allegorical and fantastical in addition to the sense of realism that he brought to The Apu Trilogy. The opening shot of a chandelier seeming to float, rocking like a pendulum in an oppressive black void, reflected a huge stylistic departure, and one that would see Ray exploring more cerebral and obscure methods of storytelling and mise en scène. Whereas the train in Pather Panchali was a mythic image, signifying Apu’s great potential and future, The Music Room’s chandelier is at something more psychologically evocative, serving as both as a symbol of a dying generation and of the isolation of Huzur Biswambhar (Chhabi Biswas) himself. Ray struggled to find financing for Pather Panchali due to the project’s failure to meet the expectations of a traditional Indian entertainment, and so The Music Room’s lengthy performance sequences play as a subversive take on the state of Indian film itself, with the songs seamlessly integrated into the narrative but representing Biswambhar in stasis. These performances play as funeral ballads, signifying a time gone by, but also the vacuum of such obsessions. Biswambhar is clearly a true connoisseur, and yet his very admiration for musical talent is at odds with his own sense of a spiritual fulfillment. Entertainment, in The Music Room, is a temporary escape from the emptiness of everyday life. Therefore, as much as the performances take on a transcendental quality, the non-musical sequences are rendered all the more vacuous, as if escape is all Biswambhar has left.



The World of Apu (1959)
June 17, 2015, 10:39 pm
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Director: Satyajit Ray
5 Stars
The World of ApuPart of the greatness of Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy is the evolution of the form of each film. As Apu ages, the devices used to tell his story also change. The most immediate difference is that the deaths of the previous installments have left Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee) alone, thereby placing the focus on an individual rather than a family. Apu is now free from the burdens of familial responsibilities, yet ironically he finds himself at his most isolated–the cramped apartment is an even more limiting environment than the village of Pather Panchali. Furthermore, whereas Ray and cinematographer Subrata Mitra attempted to evoke something transcendental in their presentation of nature in earlier installments–consider, for example, the extended shots of insects gliding on water and the dragonflies of Pather PanchaliThe World of Apu is very much removed from the poetics of the natural world in its early-goings. But it also beautifully weaves together the two films that preceded it, suggesting the cyclical nature of the story and how each experience has shaped the man he has become. Ray’s focus on tragedy throughout the trilogy suggests that loss is what makes growing up beautiful, and that only through suffering can one reach their potential.



Aparajito (1957)
June 17, 2015, 10:24 pm
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Director: Satyajit Ray
4.5 Stars
AparajitoThe second installment of Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy sees Apu (Smaran Ghosal) and his family leaving the village for the city of Benares. In the early moments, Apu has already become more a central figure in the story, with his wandering through alleys and the riverside obsessively followed by cinematographer Subrata Mitra. While Pather Panchali promised that there was a world outside, Aparajito begins by thrusting Apu into a playground of development, drawing him further and further away from his roots. There’s a greater interest in these early sequences in framing Apu within long shots, a means of physically demonstrating the growth of his world. He’s a figure in a landscape, sometimes even a boy lost in a crowd. As the mother, Karuna Banerjee becomes an even more tragic figure in this installment, with a sense of repetition happening as it seems as though she is doomed to the fate suffered by auntie in the first installment. The final sequence, in which Apu returns home and searches for his mother after studying for some time in Calcutta, is among the most powerful of the trilogy. What once was home now seems alien to him, a desolate wasteland of broken walls.



Pather Panchali (1955)
June 17, 2015, 10:19 pm
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Director: Satyajit Ray
4.5 Stars
Pather PanchaliWhen Bosley Crowther, the highly influential critic of the New York Times, reviewed Pather Panchali in 1958, he drew attention to the film’s “mosaic” quality. That is, unlike a conventionally structured Hollywood film, Satyajit Ray’s debut feature progresses as a series of episodes, as if serving as a loosely structured tour of an impoverished Indian village and of a way of life. While the patient rhythm wasn’t unique to cinema at the time (even classical American directors such as John Ford favored a steady poeticism in their images), nor was the sense of realism in the images of poverty (the neorealism movement was a decade old at this point), there was something different about Ray’s approach. Besides the universality of his themes regarding the relationships and the roles that we form within our households, there’s a terrifically elegiac quality about the images. The shots of aged auntie (Chunibala Devi), cast aside and knowingly marching to her death, carry the weight of not only the action in the present tense, but of the very idea of a discarding of the past. Apu’s (Subir Banerjee) development in this first installment of the trilogy is mostly as an observer–a watching eye, trying to grasp the relationships between those around him and the world he inhabits. The famed image of his confrontation with a train doesn’t quite suggest his desire to leave home, but of his growing awareness of a world outside. To a child, that thought is as magical as it is bewildering.