Pather Panchali (1955)

1 04 2008

For whatever reason, I’ve unfairly put off Satyajit Ray’s work up until now. With only one film in, I’ve already become overwhelmed with anticipation to explore the rest of his filmography. There are very few films that make me feel the way this one does, and that’s why it is so very difficult to articulate everything one can feel in a film such as this one. Simply put, it embodies everything great about cinema as well as everything great about life.

The film opens with an introduction to the family. Durga is the family daughter and we first see her stealing fruit from the neighbors to give to her aging great aunt, Indir. The neighbors complain and Durga’s mother, Sarbajaya, scolds Indir for encouraging Durga’s behavior. Indir, tired of be nagged, moves to a nearby household, but quickly returns once Sarbajaya gives birth to Apu, and thus the story begins. Many years later (somewhere around 6 or 7) Apu is now older, but the family’s living conditions are pretty much the same. Their father’s dreams of becoming a poet are dashed as he drifts from one hopeless job to another.

Move eventually happens in the “story” (if you want to call it that) but there is no need to give much more away. The plot of Ray’s film is not it’s drive. Instead, his attention is focused to the intricacy of daily life and the textures of the things involved. To make things simple, poetic, but not in the simpleminded modern way of grass shots with voiceovers. There’s plenty of that, sure, but the film provides much more than superficial “elegance.” Feelings of nostalgia frame every image, establishing what could very well be the first of these “lost childhood” films a la George Washington or Stand By Me. Afterall, one of the greatest motifs in the film is Durga and Apu’s deep desire to see a train. There is an amazing sequence in which the children, obscured by the tall blades of grain, run for a meeting with a train. As bleak as the film eventually gets, it is the moments such as this that make Pather Panchali so much more than a simple story about deaths in a family. Ray’s interest is not in their lowest points, but rather in the few, fleeting moments that form what we categorize as childhood memories. Such sequences are bookended by Pandit Ravi Shankar’s fantastic score that not only support the film’s near-perfect pacing, but magnify the emotional resonance in places that seem irrelevant. When I think of this film, I do not see all the plot points, instead I see Durga and Apu running through the fields, or I see Aunt Indir clumsily attempting to leave the household, or one of the hundred others images that Ray has created while simulationesly presenting one of cinema’s great character studies.

That is to say, for all the technical sublimity that lies within the film, there is also one of the most honest meditations on the human conditions. That’s a lot of big overblown words to choose for simply one sentence, but it makes sense considering just how much of this rings true. It seems as though Ray is as much of an Ozu junkie as I am, or at the very least, he just makes films that are thematically similar to Ozu’s. This most likely plays a large role in how easy it is for a person such as myself to immediately latch onto Ray’s film. It’s easy to get familiar with his way of doing things, in other words, it’s quite accessible. Still, it would be a lie to say that the film drifts along on surface level to appreciable as that, it’s not but it’s the impeccable psychological depth that helps form the film into the masterpiece that is.



2 responses

5 05 2008
Pacze Moj

The train-through-the-wheat (is it wheat, grass, something else?) scene is incredible, as is the one in which the mother fights against the wind to keep her daughter’s candle burning.

24 09 2010

nice photos…

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