A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Stranger (Satyajit Ray, 1991)

Utpal Dutt and Bikram Bhattacharya in The Stranger
Sudhindra Bose: Dipankar Dey
Anila Bose: Mamata Shankar
Satyaki Bose: Bikram Bhattacharya
Manomohan Mitra: Utpal Dutt
Prithwish Sen Gupta: Dhritiman Chatterjee
Ranjan Rakshit: Rabi Ghosh
Chhandra Rakshit: Subrata Chatterjee
Tridip Mukherjee: Promode Ganguly
Sital Sarkar: Ajit Banerjee

Director: Satyajit Ray
Screenplay: Satyajit Ray
Cinematography: Barun Raha
Production design: Ashok Bose
Film editing: Dulal Dutta
Music: Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray's final film, The Stranger, based on one of his own short stories, ends with a rather sentimentally gratifying gesture on the part of its central character, but even this rather conventional narrative twist doesn't spoil the lovely seriocomic mood cast by the film as a whole. It's the story of a long-lost relative who suddenly, after 35 years without contact, arrives at the home of his one surviving family member, a niece who was 2 years old when he disappeared. Anila Bose and her husband, Sudhindra, are well-to-do residents of Calcutta who can't help being suspicious that the man who arrives on their doorstep may not be who he says he is, her mother's brother, Manomohan. Sudhindra is especially cautious, warning that the man may be planning to filch some of the valuable antiquities they have collected, so Anila dutifully locks some of them away. But almost from the beginning, the "uncle" begins to win Anila and especially her son, Satyaki, over with tales from his travels and unusual insights into the way of the world. Even Sudhindra is disarmed when the man produces his passport but also warns him that passports can be forged. Some curious friends of the Bose family "drop in" to form their own opinion of the stranger, and they, too, are won over. Anila begins to have her doubts, however, when, while reading an Agatha Christie novel in bed, it occurs to her that the long-lost uncle may be there to collect his share of her grandfather's will.  Finally, it falls to another, more deeply skeptical friend to challenge the man and his ideas: his observations on civilization that he has formed from his travels. Their heated debate is the intellectual and dramatic turning point in the story. Ray's typically roving camera keeps the film from becoming stagy: It takes place mostly  in the Bose home, because Ray's doctors had warned him to do most of his filming indoors, but there are also some lovely outdoor scenes, especially toward the end, when Manomohan takes the family to a tribal village where dancers show the family that there is more to Indian culture than their privileged middle-class lives. The Stranger is a fine farewell to an illustrious career.

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