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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The exquisite first film of the great Satyajit Ray,
Once upon a time, in the early years of the last century, a young boy named Apu lived with his poor Brahmin family in a village in Bengal. The father, Harihar Ray (Kanu Bannerjee) is a poet and a priest, who would rather think of an idea for his next play than make an effort to get the money that is owed him, and who responds to the hardships of life with the simple declaration, "Whatever God does is for the best." Consequently, he has to travel far away for long periods of time to try and raise the money his family needs to survive, to pay back their debts, and to repair the family home, which is falling down. This leaves his wife and two children to survive as best they can in this intimate and poetic film.
The two things I knew about this classic Indian film before I watched it was that it was the first by director Satyajit Ray and the first in the Apu trilogy. I found the later more interesting because Apu (Subir Bannerjee) is arguable the least significant of the major characters in this film, which centers more on his mother, Sarbojaya (Karuna Bannerjee), and especially his sister, Durga (Uma Das Gupta). Durga is something of a petty theft, who is always stealing fruit from the neighborhood orchards. Her mother defends her behavior to the neighbors, pointing out that fruit does not have the name of its owner on it, but she does not know what to do about Durga, or about the family's old auntie (Chunibala Devi). Apu is a witness to some of what happens, but it is not until the end of the film that he has a scene of some importance. Even then, it is the poetry of the moment that matters more than anything Apu does, and you are left with a sense of wonder as to how Ray has crafted this film so that this relatively simple moment becomes so eloquent.
"Pather Panchali" was also known as "The Lament of the Path," "The Saga of the Road," and "Song of the Road," all of which give you a sense of the meaning and import of the title. You would be hard pressed to describe the plot of this movie in terms that would be enticing to an audience that is going to have to sit down and read subtitles for a film, but there are so many memorable moments in this film without dialogue, that being forced to read the English subtitles of the Bengali dialogue seems a small price to pay. This is about a poor rural family cursed with bad luck, and even that minor description gives no indication of the scope of this film. Even when nothing is happening, the scenes are still filled with meaning, and we never shake the feeling that we are watching real life.
After seeing this film I started reading up on Ray and the legendary story of how he made this film, it is rather unbelievable when you consider we are talking about one of the greatest "foreign" film directors of all time, right up there with Kurosawa, Bergman, and Fellini. The short version is Ray had never directed a scene, his cameraman (Subrata Mitra) was a still photographer who had never shot a film, and his young actors had been hired without tryouts. He also hired a young musician named Ravi Shankar to do the score, and the result was cinematic magic and a film debut that is unforgettable. "Pather Panchali" is followed by "Aparajito" (1957) and "Apur Sansar" (1959) in telling the rest of the story of young Apu as he grows up. I have not seen then yet, but of course I will. I just need to let the afterglow of having finally seen this film dissipate first before I move on to the next offering in the trilogy.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars soul food from the great Satyajit Ray,
Satyajit Ray's masterly potrayal of village life in India enchants with its intense beauty and simplicity. The life of a family of four, mother, father, brother and sister, and their occasssional visitng and ancient great aunt proceeds, with a minimalist attention to detail, to slip gradually deeper into poverty and towards tragedy with what seems a natural inevitability that eventually appals. The vitality of brother and sister, as they explore the tiny dimensions of their world, there spiritedness and the strength of the natural bond between them, are perhpaps the heart of the film.
In a moment of almost hallucinatory beauty, the two leave their village in search of the framilies lost calf, into fields of long grass, past new electricity pylons that tower miraculously above them after the cluastrophobic containmnet of the village world, and eventually to the railway tracks they have never before seen, even though the sound of the train can be heard from their village. As a stream train roars past, the viewer for a moment is transported to that point of wonder and awe, romaticised as the child's view, which we so often yearn for.
Throughout the film, senses are sharpened and refreshed; the sound of feet walking on the village's mud paths, of rain falling on the roof of the dilapidated house, the taste of guavas stolen from an orchard that used to belong to your own family:
the accumulation of so much sensuous beauty leaves the soul brimming and the heart with a new thirst for life.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pather Panchali,
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This film had been reported as one of the best films ever made and I totally agree. It gives a glimpse of India that it would be impossible to imagine without this wonderful film. It follows the life of one small boy from a caring but extremely poor family. It is amusing, sad, very entertaining and absorbing. We learn what happens to the rest of his family and we follow him through his education, successes and failures and long for his luck to change. You need to watch this wonderful film to discover his final outcome. A delightful film in every way. English subtitles throughout. This is one film which is much better for being in its own language. For English language speakers I feel it enhances the film rather than detracting from it in any way.
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece without question,
I'm incredulous that anyone wouldn't give this a five. I saw all his films as they came out, but to me this one is the freshest and most touching. A universal story.
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Film in Every Way,
This review is from: Pather Panchali [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
This was the breakthrough film for Satyajit Ray and the first Indian film to receive wide recognition in the West. It it still magnificent in every way.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost a masterpiece,
Some reviewers, such as David Thompson, have questioned whether Ray makes authentic Indian films, or merely serves up Indian for Western audiences. Certainly Ray had a priveleged background and was well aware of the Western film-making tradition; he started making films after meeting Jean Renoir on a trip to Paris. I'm not Indian, and I've never been there, but this film seems to me to be completely authentic despite Ray's cultural references. People praise the simplicity, austerity and truth of current Iranian cinema. All I can say is that Ray got there first.
The film works through the steady accumulation of detail about village life. Heavily influenced by Italian neo-realism, it uses amateur actors with such sympathy that they never seem to be acting. It also has Renoir's feeling for landscape, and the relationship between people and countryside reminds me of his "Une Partie de Campagne" Partie De Campagne .
The boy Apu in this film is not the focus; that is provided by the women - the worn-down mother, her snobbish and shrill mother's sister, the canny and opportunistic ancient great-auntie, Apu's lively sister. Apu's father, an artistic and ineffective dreamer, is largely absent. Ordinary events are punctuated by special occasions - a festival, visiting actors. Characters die, first the auntie, then the sister. And it is the experience of death and natural disaster which binds the family and makes Apu grow up. The film closes with Apu and his parents setting off on a bullock cart to a new life in the city. (One of the themes of the movie is the destruction of traditional life - the electricity pylons stride across the countryside.)
Although this was a first film made over three years because of lack of money, it already has Ray's trademarks all over it - the intense close-ups, the poetry of image and sound.
Where it falters, is in the treatment of the climactic scene where the daughter dies in a thunderstorm; we need the death and we need the storm to destroy the family home, but the way they're juxtaposed here pushes the film into melodrama. It's a failure of tone.
Ray was an immensely prolific film-maker, and his later speed of production and habit of doing everything means that the quality is uneven. But at his greatest he has to be up there with Bergman and Renoir - simply the Best.
This is a very moving film, but for perfection go to Distant Thunder or Days and Nights in the Forest - if you can find them.
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Pather Panchali [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] by Satyajit Ray (DVD - 2003)
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