A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Aparajito (Satyajit Ray, 1956)

As the middle film of a trilogy, Aparajito could have been merely transitional -- think for example of the middle film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002), which lacks both the tension of a story forming and the release of one ending. But Ray's film stands by itself, as one of the great films about adolescence, that coming-together of a personality. The "Apu trilogy," like its source, the novels by Bibhutibhushan Bannerjee, is a Bildungsroman, a novel of ... well, the German Bildung can be translated as "education" or "development" or even "personal growth." In Aparajito, the boy Apu (Pinaki Sengupta) sprouts into the adolescent Apu (Smaran Ghosal), as his family moves from their Bengal village to the city of Benares (Varanasi), where Apu's father (Kanu Bannerjee) continues to work as a priest, while his mother (Karuna Bannerjee) supplements their income as a maid and cook in their apartment house. When his father dies, Apu and his mother move to the village Mansapota, where she works for her uncle and Apu begins to train to follow his father's profession of priest. But the ever-restless Apu persuades his mother to let him attend the village school, where he excels, eventually winning a scholarship to study in Calcutta. In Pather Panchali (1955), the distant train was a symbol for Apu and his sister, Durga, of a world outside; now Apu takes a train into that world, not without the painful but necessary break with his mother. Karuna Banerjee's portrayal of the mother's heartbreak as she releases her son into the world is unforgettable. Whereas Pather Panchali clung to a limited setting, the decaying home and village of Apu's childhood, the richness of Aparajito lies in its use of various settings: the steep stairs that Apu's father descends and ascends to practice his priestly duties on the Benares riverfront, the isolated village of Mansapota, and the crowded streets of Calcutta, all of them magnificently captured by Subrata Mitra's cinematogaphy.

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