Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kanu Bannerjee, Karuna Bannerjee, Chunibala Devi, Uma Das Gupta, Subir Banerjee, Runki Banerjee, Reba Devi, Smaran Ghosal, Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore
Written by: Satyajit Ray, based on novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Directed by: Satyajit Ray
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Bengali, with English subtitles
Running Time: 344
Date: 09/22/1958

The Apu Trilogy (1959)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Poetry of Life

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Satyajit Ray forever changed the face of India's immense film industry with this uniquely personal, practically homemade, trilogy following the lifelong trials and tribulations of a village boy, Apu (played by Subir Banerjee, Pinaki Sengupta, Smaran Ghosal and Soumitra Chatterjee at different ages).

The first film, Pather Panchali (1955 -- please see my longer review), chronicles Apu's life in a rural village, the second, Aparajito (1957), his move to Calcutta and the loss of his parents, and the third, The World of Apu (1959), his life as a young man and poverty-stricken student looking for romance.

Using 16mm black-and-white film and guerrilla filmmaking techniques, Ray created a world where the unpredictable rhythms of real life danced on celluloid. A toothless old woman gums away at fruit, a monkey jumps on an unsuspecting woman trying to get water, and a flock of birds take flight at the moment of death. Just like life, the poetry comes only if you're open to it. A then-unknown Ravi Shankar adds his spirited score to the mix.

Akira Kurosawa probably said it best: "I can never forget the excitement in my mind after seeing Pather Panchali. It is the kind of cinema that flows with the serenity and nobility of a big river. The quiet but deep observation, understanding and love of the human race, which are characteristic of all his films, have impressed me greatly. … I feel that he is a 'giant' of the movie industry. Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon."

Columbia/TriStar did not put much energy into its 2003 DVD releases; the film stock is still riddled with dirt and flaws (the negatives were lost in a fire), the English subtitles are non-optional and there are no extras. But this stripped-down approach somehow adds a certain appropriate charm to these particular films.

In 2015, Janus Films gave the trilogy a 4K digital restoration and a theatrical re-release, hopefully to be followed by a Criterion Blu-ray set.

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