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PATHER PANCHALI
1955 - Satyajit Ray
India
65
Opening Shot

The first moments of Satyajit Ray's first feature film seem to define not only the film but perhaps Ray as a filmmaker. Both in style and emotional tone we immediately get a sense of this world as we are taken into its culture and its nostalgia, as we observe a young Durga picking fruit from her neighbors land and taking it home (through the long village road) to her family. A blend of poetry and realism, which would become trademark of Ray's films.

The Film

With his groundbreaking debut feature, Satyajit Ray went against the conventions of India's studio system. Using his influence of European cinema (notably the inspiration of Italian Neorealism, as well as the experience learned working as assistant director for Jean Renoir on The River), Ray elected to shoot without a screenplay, on location, and with a mostly nonprofessional cast and crew. His focus was centered on lyrical realism, and on a simplistic and carefully complex structure. Pather Panchali is the first film of Ray's beloved Apu Trilogy, which chronicles the growth of a young boy to adulthood. Among the opening images of the film is that of a path, which expresses the journey of the film. This is further even expressed in the films connected closing images, which are also set on the road. At the thematic core of the film is the cycle of life and nature. Sadness and death are unavoidable and the mystery of nature is always present. The poetic scene in the field (with Apu and his sister Durga, wonderfully played by Uma Das Gupta and Runki Banerjee), which is shown through the eyes of a child looking through the vast presence of nature towards a moving train. It is a lyrically magical and hauntingly beautiful image that defines the symbolic undertone of the films contrasting worlds (the old and the new, as well as the journey from childhood to adulthood). Quiet and carefully detailed, Pather Panchali is a deeply touching and unforgettable film experience.

The Filmmaker

Satyajit Ray is perhaps the most acclaimed filmmaker in Indian cinema history (at least in the West anyway). He is also one of the most respected filmmakers amongst his international peers, many of whom (most notably Akira Kurosawa) claimed Ray to be one of the greatest filmmakers in cinema history. Sadly most of his work remain inaccessible to Western audiences and to date I have only seen 7 of his near 30 features. Among them is his widely beloved 'Apu Trilogy' which began with his first film: 1955's Pather Panchali and concluded in 1959 with The World of Apu. It is these films that captured the attention of audiences throughout the world, and celebrated Ray as one of the very great humanist filmmakers in cinema. To me, it is particularly the first film (Pather Panchali) that is so beautiful and absolutely perfect in very way at defining the very essence of life. Presented with a simplistic style the film is incredibly moving, compassionate, sad, and above all transcendent realism. Pather Panchali earned Ray international acclaim, winning two awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Having worked as an assistant director with Jean Renoir on The River in 1951, Ray utilized the French masters sense of capturing the details and spirit of humanity. Ray's films are about culture but are so universal in their ability to examine family, love, and living. To see Ray's films (and hopefully I will get to see more) is to experience humanity in it's truest sense. Ray's films are very easy to admire for their celebration of humanity and their peaceful sensibility.

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Resources
trailer (youtube)      
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