Wednesday, December 9, 2015
The World of Apu (Satyajit Ray, 1959)
Pather Panchali and Aparajito, The World of Apu (aka Apur Sansar) stands alone, its story complete in itself. But it also works beautifully as part of a trilogy. Apu's story often echoes that of his own father, whose desire to become a writer sometimes set him at odds with his family. When, in Pather Panchali, Apu's father returns from a long absence to find his daughter dead and his ancestral home in ruins, he burns the manuscripts of the plays he had tried to write. Apu, during his wanderings after Aparna's death, flings the manuscript of the novel he had been writing to the winds. And just as the railroad train figures as a symbol of the wider world in Pather Panchali, and as the means to escape into it in Aparajito, it plays a role in The World of Apu. Instead of being a remote entity, it's present in Apu's own backyard: His Calcutta apartment looks out onto the railyards of the city. Adjusting to life with Apu, Aparna at one point has to cover her ears at the whistle of a train. Apu's last sight of her is as she boards a train to visit her family. And when he reunites with his son, he tries to play with the boy and a model train engine. The glory of this film is that it has a "happy ending" that is, unlike most of them, completely earned and doesn't fall into false sentiment. I don't use the world "masterpiece" lightly, but The World of Apu, both alone and with its companion films, seems to me to merit it.