Friday, June 26, 2015

The Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali

In May 2015, partners involved in the extensive restoration/reconstruction of Satyajit Ray's masterworks The Apu Trilogy released meticulously restored versions in a digital format. I've just seen the first film, Pather Panchali, about the birth and childhood of Apu. The sound is Ravi Shankar's music which in many cases renders dialogue unnecessary, expressing the emotional layers of life in a variegated stream of notes and beats. Mischief, mystery, argument, discovery - the wedding of sitar and drums to the camera's keen eye creates a rapturous and all-encompassing experience.

The camera loves everything it sees: a large lidded basket of kittens; a girl hiding in an orchard, stealing a piece of fruit, then skipping home where she places her bounty in the bowl of ancient Auntie, the penniless woman who shares her family's house; water striders moving on the surface of a river; a distant shot of sister and brother hurrying along the right-angle paths flanking rice paddies, in search of the family's calf, an excuse to go see the railroad tracks.

Whether the image is of Auntie struggling by the light of her oil lamp to thread a needle, or of young Apu fascinated by the behavior of his teacher who is also a merchant, or the exaggerated costumes and dialogue of the traveling troupe who entertain the village, this black-and-white film is eloquent, shedding light on family, on village society, on the full tapestry of life.

Satyajit Ray was master of his medium, and we are the richer for his vision. If you have the opportunity to see these restored films on a big screen, go!