With the release of Satyajit Ray’s debut, an eloquent, important new cinematic voice made itself heard all over the world. A depiction of rural Bengali life in a style inspired by Italian neorealism, this naturalistic but poetic evocation follows a number of years in the life of an Indian family.
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Re-rating this, since the new restoration on the big screen makes all the difference over a fuzzy video tape. Beautiful, heartfelt, elliptical—more stunning shots than you can count, and the ways it chooses to show (or not show) vital plot points may be its biggest breakthrough. I still think there's something to the criticism that it's constructed too loosely; even beauty can be numbing. But you won't forget it.
Shares much of its DNA with the Italian neorealism of The Bicycle Thieves: small ripples having devastating effects in the lives of proud, desperate people. It may be the first part in Apu's trilogy, but really this is Sarbojaya's story, focusing on her gritted determination, and her bitterness at the cards that life has dealt her.
Every time there's hope, it's followed by tragedy. And yet, it never feels like tragedy porn, as the film balances the two emotions in parallel, rarely over-emphasizing one above the other. It's less Song of the Little Road and more Symphony of Life.
It's tender, beautiful and utterly heart-breaking. The sheer poverty of the individuals is overwhelming and each one exhibits their poverty and destitution differently. But Ray doesn't sentimentalise or condemn; he merely observes. And in doing so he's created one of the greatest films the world has ever seen. Watch the entire trilogy and you'll wonder afresh at what cinema, at its best, is capable of achieving.
One of the most beautiful scenes in cinema: when kids Durga & Apu see the train passing by across a field of 'kaash' flowers. Another such a memorable scene with kids and trains appears in Victor Erice's "The Spirit Of The Beehive".