Silent World by Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle beat it for the golden palm at cannes, but it took the “human document” award. The film print said “grand prix” but it doesn’t even look like that award was handed out in ’56. The print also calls Ray “Roy”, but those two seem interchangeable by the IMDB. Supposed to be India’s Rashomon, the one that brought Indian film to the world’s attention.

Daunting to watch a movie known for 50 years as a masterpiece… well-illustrated when I walked into the room early and saw a bunch of freshman watching the end of Citizen Kane.

Oooh, my fourth 50’s film in a week. This came out less than a decade after Bicycle Thief, its inspiration, and the year after Senso, La Strada, Seven Samurai and Saga of Anatahan.

Ray’s first film, with great music by then-unknown Ravi Shankar. Rich drama, very moving and awesomely shot. I kind of expected to be underwhelmed, but I loved it (probably more than the film students around me who sighed a lot and started fidgeting and text-messaging towards the end) and maybe even cried a little. Some of the students did too, so there’s hope for them.

Little Apu is born to overburdened mom, underemployed dad, always-in-trouble sister and elderly aunt. Sis’s friend is getting married. Apu goes to school. Dad gets work with the landlord but isn’t paid for months. Sis steals a necklace. Mom fights with aunt while trying to make sure kids are fed and staying out of trouble. One horribly powerful fight scene when, after the necklace dispute, mom drags sis out of the yard by her hair, collapses against the inside of the door while through the wall we can see Sis crying on the other side.

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The scene is edited and scored with such force, seems like it couldn’t be the work of a first-time film director working before his country even had a proper film industry. Anyway, Sis gets sick and dies right before father comes home from the big city (he’s barely in the film) bearing money and gifts. Death scene (during a horrid rain storm) is at least double what the hair-pull fight scene was, with the music peaking into the scream that we never hear from the mother. In the finale, the family is moving to a new town to start again, Apu finds the necklace and throws it in a lake.

Movie feels like a masterpiece despite my pedestrian plot description.

When looking for screenshots I found this scene that wasn’t in the print we watched. The parents have a rare conversation about their lives and bring up moving out of town for the first time.
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Ray: “The cinematic material dictated a style to me, a very slow rhythm determined by nature, the landscape, the country. The script had to retain some of the rambling quality of the novel because that in itself contained a clue to the authenticity: life in a poor Bengali village does ramble.”

Ray in ’82: “All artists owe a debt to innovators and profit by such innovation. Godard gave me the courage to dispense largely with fades and dissolves, Truffaut to use the freeze.”

Truffaut walking out in ’56: “I don’t want to see a film about Indian peasants.”

Apu:
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His sister in the rain, celebrating a short-lived freedom:
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Outcast auntie:
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Sad parents:
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Update, Jan 2010: Katy liked it, but says she saw the sister’s death coming.

I hate to be so down on the movies Katy picks, but I can’t help myself any more than she can pretend to enjoy watching “ace in the hole” or “pennies from heaven”.

This felt like an obvious and uninteresting adaptation of an alright story about the partitioning of India and creation of Pakistan as symbolized by a conveniently diverse group of friends in Lahore and as seen through the eyes of a young innocent.

The young innocent is rich-girl Lenny-baby (of a neutral parsee family) whose hindu caretaker Ayah (a cover girl from Fire) is one of the friends. Also in there are muslims Hassan The Masseur (guy from Bollywood/Hollywood) and Dil The Ice Candy Man (Lagaan), a sympathetic sikh whose name I can’t find right now, and Lenny’s cousin Adi who has an arranged marriage to a short old man.

I took it as a history/culture lesson, though I had to ask Katy lots of questions because this movie doesn’t spell out as much as Water did for the uninitiated. Had the feeling of a postcard yearning for old peaceful times, so I didn’t see the violent atrocities of the second half coming… turns into a giant bummer.

peaceful days:
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friendly chat:
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an ice-candy betrayal, baby:
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My first Bollywood movie. Idiotically simplistic script, a few nicely played musical numbers (annoying music though), and the most horrible constantly-gliding music-video camerawork. Are they all like this? The slickest, emptiest foreign film I’ve seen since Godzilla: Final Wars, as well as the loudest since Tetsuo The Iron Man adds up to an unpleasant viewing experience.

Apparently this was a scene-for-scene remake of Hitch with a bellybutton-pierced Indian dude in the Will Smith “love doctor” role. 42-yr-old Salman Khan has starred in almost 50 movies in the last 10 years, making him much more prolific than slacker Will Smith, but I’ll take Smith over the mugging Khan any day. Actually there’s no shortage of mugging in the movie so Khan’s antics hardly stand out except when he’s playing an 80’s gangster and lip-synching to “Pump Up The Jam”. There’s no way to look cool wearing a fur-lined coat and mouthing the word “pump! pump! pump!” in close-up, but he sure tries.

Similarly prolific Govinda is the dumpy friend, the screechy annoying “comic” role. You wouldn’t think he’d be such a good dancer from looking at him. Love interests Lara Dutta and Katrina Kaif have been less prolific only because they’re younger than I am.

One of the women has a kid, which is apparently the only detail not stolen from Hitch. There’s also a gay wedding planner (only character I liked) and an ineffectual gangster. I guess the movie fits the romantic comedy mold, though it didn’t seem too romantic.

On the plus side, I only saw the boom mic once. Even Katy didn’t like the movie (much).

UPDATE Aug 25: Yaaay, Salman Khan is going to prison today for hunting endangered gazelle.

Ashouk marries Ashima and takes her to NYC where they have kids Gogol and Sonia. Gogol is frustrated from having a funny name, dates a rich girl for a while, ends up marrying another girl who leaves him for her French ex. Changes his name from Gogol to Nikhil, confused by his parents’ choice of name until his dad finally tells him about the Gogol-reading train-accident that originally led him to the States.

Movie never gets bogged down in story, constantly exploring its theme of living in a foreign country, of cultural differences, leaving and returning home, families split and together. Uses color and music, costumes and props to develop further… every element serves the themes and characters perfectly. Lots of movies attempt this “foreigner moves to new place, sees it from a fresh outsider perspective, finds similarities between cultures/people, eventually fails/succeeds to fit in” idea, but hardly any have succeeded with such a smart, human story. I fell for it completely.

Saw again with Katy, still love it, she liked it too. Says the filmmakers seemed to have more compassion for the characters than the author of the novel.

Postcolonial Wednesday, part one. I loved everything about the movie, but Katy didn’t like it because of its colonialist politics.

Based on a Rumer Godden novel, and she was on set during filming. Harriet is a young aspiring poet, who thinks she knows all about India… neighbor Valerie is the daughter of a rich American… and neighbor Melanie is half-Indian with an American father (Mr. John) trying to maintain both her American and Indian heritage. One day Captain John shows up and they all fall for him, though Melania tries to hide it. Oh and Harriet’s little brother Bogey has an unhealthy (and eventually fatal) interest in animals, especially poisonous snakes.

A gorgeous movie, looked great on the big screen. Life/death/love/loss themes throughout, all loosely tied (by Harriet more than by the Indians) to the river. The dream sequence told by Melanie (featuring two Indian gods and some dancing) is so great it even impressed Katy. Renoir movies make me feel more alive.

Harriet’s father, Esmond Knight, was in some Powell/Pressburger movies. Most of the other actors were in plenty of other films, except the nanny “Nan” who was in one more IMDB-credited movie… and Harriet, who never was in another movie, and died from cancer in 1967. Her real dad, a comic movie star in the early 30’s, died three weeks later.

CONTEXT: Jean Renoir made The River semi-independently in India after his Hollywood period (Woman on the Beach, Diary of a Chambermaid, etc) and right before his return to France with the celebrated Coach / Cancan / Elena trio. Came out around the same time as Statues Also DieSamuel Fuller was getting started… Bunuel’s Olvidados, Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest… some good sci-fi was out in the States… Fritz Lang was making House by the River and Clash by Night and Ophuls had “Madame de…” and “Le Plaisir“.

A social issues movie. Indians girls who are widowed (before even realizing they were married in some cases) are sent to live in widow-houses as beggars and whores. Our little protagonist and a free-spirited strong-willed young woman daren’t defy their fat tradition-bound elders, and so surrender to their fates till a young male idealist, too late to save the young woman, sacrifices the girl to the Gandhi Train. Before that, the y.w. drowns herself in the river, our girl brings holy water (too late) to a dying woman, and a parrot is murdered.

Full of pretty shots and good performances, but in retrospect a lightweight and obvious script. Seems the whole movie is meant to make us feel bad about these widows, being oppressed by their religion/culture, like Los Olvidados or Salaam Bombay. None seem quite as good, or quite as depressing as Germany Year Zero, but depressing poor-people movies are never my favorites. Nor are happy rich-people movies, for that matter. Katy seemed to like it, but didn’t say much.