Pather Panchali (1955, Satyajit Ray)

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.


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.

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.”


His sister in the rain, celebrating a short-lived freedom:

Outcast auntie:

Sad parents:

Update, Jan 2010: Katy liked it, but says she saw the sister’s death coming.