Pather Panchali

1955 Satyajit Ray movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Based on a Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay novel, this is about the poor family of a priest who struggle to survive after dad runs off to find work and bring home more bacon.

This is Ray's first movie, and I love how the guy tells stories. There's almost nothing at all wasted here even though I know a lot of people would watch this and wonder what the collection of very tiny moments really has to do with anything. Characters are built slowly but naturally, and the story barely moves most of the time. But you have time as a viewer to absorb, catch nuances, and really feel like you're almost watching a documentary about the lives of people in India rather than a fictionalized story with actors and actresses. Ray does nothing tricky, and there's very little of what most people would call style although it all adds up to this quiet explosion of tragedy and pathos that gives it an idiosyncratic feel. There are poetic touches, and everything's steeped in symbolism and meaning. I've only seen two of Ray's movies, but they both have this way of working their way into you and becoming something very close to an actual experience, just like the time your first girlfriend broke up with you or your grandfather died. Ray works this kind of hushed magic, and although I know there are people who would call this sort of thing boring, they're people who I really feel sorry for.

Ravi Shankar did the score, and although the music is a little all over the place at times, it does successfully add to the lyrical quality of this story.

My favorite scenes were a terrific death scene that is about as poignant as movie scenes get, and the closing scene involving water and an important symbol that I shouldn't give away. I thought Karuna Bannerjee was great as the mother, the most complex character in the movie. The kid Apu, played by Subir Banerjee, was also very good, and this was his only role. There are actually a bunch of Bannerjees or Banerjees in this, and I'm not sure what's going on with that 'n' in the names.

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