Tuesday, 28 February 2012

#31 India — Pather Panchali (1955)

There's a funny story about me trying to watch Pather Panchali from a while ago. I took the DVD out of the library because I'd heard good things about it. When I put it in my player, the menu screen identified the film as Aparjito. Not knowing that this was the title of the second in the trilogy, I assumed it was an alternate name and watched it anyway. When I logged on to IMDb, I realised my mistake and that both the DVD case and the label on the disc were wrong. When I took it back to the library, it turned out that the cases and labels for Pather Panchali and Aparjito had been switched somehow. So now the disks have the titles scrawled out and the correct ones written in marker pen.

The film concerns itself with the lives of a poor Bengali family trying to survive through lack of jobs, illness and conflict. There is not one central character, instead the emphasis is put on everyone in the family; the job-hunting and cheerful father, the old and decrepit auntie, the quiet and young Apu, his unruly sister and their mother who tries to hold everything together.

Although the characters themselves aren't developed much, their relationships to each other are. You get a very real feeling of how the family view each other and how this affects their lives. They are amazingly well played by amateur actors, making the characters feel very organic. The mother is especially convincing; the emotion of her character is displayed subtly, but unmistakably.

The realistic presentation and use of amateur actors takes a lot of influence from the Italian Neorealism movement which peaked a number of years prior. As such, there is very little forced sentimentality, instead opting for a very honest observation of events.

The cinematography is a very interesting feature of the film. The compositions are often desolate, but have a beautiful dreamlike quality to them. It's like the viewer is viewing the film through the eyes of a child (perhaps Apu).

The legendary Ravi Shankar's score is nothing short of breathtaking. It it very intricate and full of energy, adding to the vibrancy that the cinematography gives the film.

Each role in the family unit is explored to the same large extent. One understand the Durga's frustration at having to abide by certain rules and remain accountable to her mother, but one also empathises with the mother and her struggles to bring her children up correctly whilst juggling all other facets of life. The viewer witnesses the father's generous relationship with Apu and how the parents must balance keeping the children happy whilst not spending frivolously. Particularly heartbreaking is the old aunt who doesn't have a set home and must rely on the progressively irate mother for support. All of these complex roles and relationships give the film a number of thematic layers which the viewer can draw from based on their family situation throughout their life.

Pather Panchali isn't really my kind of film due to its insistence on realism, but it is a deeply layers and incredibly well crafted film that anyone with an interest in the films of Italian Neorealism or Ozu et al. is sure to love.

PS. due to heavy workload, new reviews will only go up once a week on Tuesdays.

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