Aparajito (1957; Dir.: Satyajit Ray)
The World of Apu (1959; Dir.: Satyajit Ray)
*Opens today at the Opera Plaza Cinemas in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.
By Daniel Barnes
The original negatives for Indian legend Satyajit Ray’s groundbreaking “Apu trilogy” were damaged in a fire in 1993, but they have been resurrected and restored in 4K Digital for a brief theatrical run and eventual Blu-Ray release. Apurba Kumar Roy is born in the first film, comes of age in the second, and becomes a man in the third, and the end result is just as profound and life-affirming a portrait of maturation as the Apted Up documentaries or Boyhood. Ray never intended to make any sequels to his 1955 directorial debut Pather Panchali (aka Song of the Little Road), and indeed the film is something of a cinematic miracle, a Neo-Realist influenced story of a poor country family beset by tragedy that mixes stark realism with a dreamlike elegance. I haven’t seen Pather Panchali in about a decade, and revisiting the movie felt like making a pilgrimage to a sacred temple, nourishing and rejuvenating. Aparajito (aka The Unvanquished) is both grander in scale (it moves back and forth from seaside tenements to country estates to a university in Calcutta) and more inwardly focused, a quiet meditation on maturity, modernization, and loss. In these last two film in the trilogy, Ray deals more explicitly with conventional melodrama and plot mechanics, and on those terms The World of Apu is a huge step forward. There’s a Billy Wilder-level cleverness to the first half of the film, which makes the earth-shattering tragedy of the second half all the more devastating. As a baby, Apu’s mother looks over him and wonders, “How will he survive? Was he even born to survive?” Were any of us? All three films are beautifully and indispensably scored by sitar god Ravi Shankar.