The second installment of Satyajit Ray’s great Apu trilogy, fully comprehensible on its own terms, suffers at times from its episodically constructed plot, which follows Apu from the age of ten in the holy city of Banaras (in 1920) to his early adulthood in Calcutta. It also bears the traces of technical problems, which led to a virtually one-to-one shooting ratio for many scenes. But this also happens to be my own favorite film in the trilogy, as well as the reported favorite of Ray’s fellow Bengali directors Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Its treatment of death — specifically the death of Apu’s father toward the beginning of the film and of his mother near the end — is among the most beautiful, mystical, and precise handlings of that subject in all of cinema, worthy of Mizoguchi; in a way the film is little more than a careful contextualizing of these two astonishing sequences. An adaptation of roughly the last fifth of Bibhutibhusan Banerjee’s novel Pather Panchali and the first third of his subsequent novel Aparajita, this benefits as much as the rest of the trilogy from the ravishing “commentary” of Ravi Shankar’s music. It’s a masterpiece for which terms like “simplicity” and “profundity” seem inadequate.… Read more »
Daily Archives: August 25, 1995
From the Chicago Reader (August 25, 1995). — J.R.
Valley of Abraham
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Manoel de Oliveira
With Leonor Silveira, Cecile Sanz de Alba, Luis Miguel Cintra, Rui de Carvalho, Luis Lima Barreto, Diogo Doria, Jose Pinto, and Isabel Ruth.
I think the most important intellectual discovery I’ve made in the past year came from the early pages of Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991. In a way, it’s an observation so obvious that I wonder why it never occurred to me before: “Unlike the ‘long 19th century,’ which seemed, and actually was, a period of almost unbroken material, intellectual and moral progress…there has, since 1914, been a marked regression from the standards then regarded as normal in the developed countries and in the milieus of the middle classes and which were confidently believed to be spreading to the more backward regions and the less enlightened strata of the population….Since this century has taught us, and continues to teach us, that human beings can learn to live under the most brutalized and theoretically intolerable conditions, it is not easy to grasp the extent of the, unfortunately accelerating, return to what our 19th century ancestors would have called the standards of barbarism.”
So thoroughly had I been brainwashed by the myth of perpetual progress that it didn’t even occur to me that the history of the 20th century might be one of regression.… Read more »