|Pick of the Week:|
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
In April, 2002, it was my privilege to see the "Apu Trilogy" on the big screen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and it was one of the highlights of my moviegoing life. On October 28, 2003, Sony Pictures Classics released separately the three films that make up the trilogy on three DVDs that I give my highest possible recommendation. The individual titles of the movies that comprise the "Apu Trilogy" are "Pather Panchali" (1955), "Aparajito" (1957), and "The World of Apu" (1959). All are in Bengali with English subtitles.
All three films were written, directed, and produced by the legendary Satyajit Ray, who in 1992 received a special Academy Award for "his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and for his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world." The films in the "Apu Trilogy" won some major festival prizes and are highly regarded by critics. Roger Ebert includes a write-up of the trilogy in his series "The Great Movies," and "Pather Panchali" ranked 22nd in the 2002 "Sight and Sound" Critics' Poll.
I know of no other collection of films that gives such an unforgettable portrayal of the sweep of life from childhood to adolescence to marriage. The story takes place entirely in India during the period from roughly 1910 to the late 1930s and traces the life of an Indian man named Apu from birth to his late 20s. While Apu's life is superficially quite different from that of anyone living in the Western world of the 21st century, I believe North American and European audiences will nonetheless find the themes of the movies to be universal.
It seems to me the story of Apu and his family unfolds more like narrative poetry than like drama. The lyrical cinematography and location shooting in India make the films visually stunning. The atmospheric nature of the movies is greatly enhanced by the music of Ravi Shankar, featuring sitar, percussion, and the occasional plaintiff tones of a bamboo flute.
When I first saw "Pather Panchali," I was blown away. I'd never seen anything like it before, and it changed the way I've looked at movies ever since. I suppose Ray was influenced by the style of the Italian neorealists and the humanism of Jean Renoir, but it seems to me the Indian writer-director came up with something entirely his own in his debut film.
"Pather Panchali" shows Apu's life when he is about six years old, living in abject poverty in rural India with his parents, his sister, and his elderly great-aunt. His father is a Hindu priest who, even though he takes any job he can get, provides for his family at the subsistence level. Apu and his sister do not always have enough to eat, leading his mother to drive his great-aunt away. After Apu's sister steals a neighbor's necklace, a great tragedy befalls his family, and they decide to leave the ancestral home and move to the city.
"Aparajito" opens in the holy city of Benares in 1920 when Apu is about 10. He and his parents live in squalor, but the pilgrims coming to bathe in the Ganges provide his father with enough income that the family no longer goes hungry. However, his father dies, and Apu and his mother move to the country. Apu learns science and English in school, abandons the idea of becoming a priest like his father, and at age 16 goes away to college in Calcutta. What I like best about this film is how it shows Apu beginning to find his own way in the world. But there is a price to be paid: he drifts away from his mother and is deeply saddened when she dies a lonely death.
After the opening credits for "The World of Apu," the protagonist is in his early 20s, bereft of family and living alone in a room in Calcutta. He's trying to get started as a writer of creative fiction while taking various jobs to make ends meet. He attends the wedding ceremony for an arranged marriage as a guest, but when the groom turns out to be insane, Apu marries the bride to save her from disgrace. I think the best thing about this movie is the way it depicts the loving relationship that develops between Apu and his new bridea very different sort of marriage from the dutiful one endured by his parents. But when Apu and his wife have a child, tragedy again strikes.
When Ray made "Pather Panchali," he didn't expect to make a trilogy, and even after completing "Aparajito," he wasn't sure there would be a third film about Apu. One result of this is that each of the three films in the "Apu Trilogy" is more or less self-contained, and each has its own flavor. It appears to me that most people today like "The World of Apu" better than the other two movies, probably because it is slicker and has a fairly conventional narrative structure. As for me, I much prefer "Pather Panchali" because of its moodiness and episodic structureit's more of a cinepoem than a drama. But in any case, I recommend seeing all three films because collectively they provide rare insight into the process of a young boy growing into a man.
The "Apu Trilogy" is a beautiful, moving, and humanistic masterwork of world cinema, and every time I see it, I am reminded of film's potential as an art form. "Pather Panchali," "Aparajito," and "The World of Apu" are all works of great beauty and emotional power. I love this cinepoem because of its lyrical cinematography, mesmerizing music, and compelling characters, which combine to create an unforgettable portrait of the sweep of life. Taken together, the three movies form an almost seamless whole in my imagination, creating an effect much like the memory of a life lived. Yet each film has its own arc that's aesthetically satisfying.
As of this writing, the "Apu Trilogy" is not being made available on DVD as a boxed set; instead, each of the three movies is being sold separately on its own DVD. Unfortunately, the picture and sound quality is not as good as in some restorations of other movies I've seen, but I would say it is acceptable. Also, the DVDs provide no bonus materials of any kind. Still, these are three great films that I think every cineaste will want to own on DVD.
|Important product disclaimer information about this About site.|