Posted tagged ‘Satyajit Ray’

The Path Panchali and thoughts on Satyajit Ray’s place in film history

April 29, 2009


It’s been said that all you need to do in order to get sympathy from your audience is put animals, old people, or little kids in your movie. When I watch the first five minutes of Satyajit Ray’s 1958 directorial debut, Pather Panchali, this is the line recalled by the cynical little commentator located in my cortex – the film takes no time in giving us a fleet of mewling kittens, a wide-eyed little girl, and a catty if frail old lady. By the time five minutes have passed, however, something amazing happens: I am sufficiently captivated by these particular kittens, this particular little girl, and this particular old lady that my sarcastic id shuts the hell up.

The film continues to lead me along a rocky path in rural 1920s India, overgrown with the brambles of life’s most organic trials: poverty, illness, jealousy, and inclement weather. The Ray family has lost its guava orchard to some cousins as the result of a brother’s debt, and Durga Ray’s mother must constantly scold her daughter for taking a little of the fruit that should be hers. There is a surprisingly hilarious and touching camaraderie between Durga and her great aunt Indir, who always share the fruit that Durga steals. The movie moves me unquestionably – I laugh, I cry, I shudder – but as I watch it I remain perplexed as to the source of its prestige (a quick Wikipedia search before seeing Pather told me that the film is on the best movies ever list for The New York Times and several others). Sure this film is moving, but isn’t it too simple, too elementary, too basic for all this glory? My complex modern commentator has somehow found its voice again. The rest of me wants the silence back.

To regain the quiet, I consider that in this film, the most simple of problems grow to be at least as dark as the complex poisons that modern life concocts. Somehow, though, Satyajit Ray can counter all the darkness of Pather with pure lights. Ray has a unique ability to show us these joys unfettered despite life’s thousand natural shocks. Aunt Indir’s smile is toothless, and the inspiration for about a million wrinkles, but at the same time I have never seen an image more purely beautiful or eloquent in my life. Even my inner smartass begins to see why this movie has been slated in filmic circles as a timeless classic. The voice becomes sedate again, and I find myself hoping that the change is permanent.

-Morgan H. Green


The Film Talk podcast chats about Satyajit Ray

April 28, 2009

Coming to you from Belfast and Nashville via the Internet, the opinionated gents of The Film Talk (Gareth Higgins and Jett Loe) dissect our Satyajit Ray series. You can listen to them talking about achieving effortless naturalism in cinema, the proper pronunciation of Satyajit Ray’s name, and the meaning of a Ray retrospective in the midst of a world of multiplexes. It’s a great contextualization of our Ray series, which is closing tomorrow (Wednesday).

New podcasts from The Film Talk come out frequently, and cover notable movies both high and low. You can subscribe to them on iTunes, or visit their official site.

[Open the Film Talk podcast here]

Guest post: The Film Talk’s Jett Loe on Satyajit Ray

April 28, 2009

Straight out of Nashville, The Film Talk‘s Jett Loe files this reaction to the films of Satyajit Ray.

There was a strange mental disconnect involving the escalators at the Regal Cinemas Green Hills during the Nashville Film Festival last week.

The Festival screenings all took place on the lower level of the building.  If you had to go up a level, say to get to your parked car, you ascended the escalator – and in doing so you left behind intrusive, investigative cinema that tried to apprehend the world and entered…what?


The world of  ‘17 Again’.

This contrast between cinema that actually tries to do something, (convey the human experience perhaps?), and cinema that exists seemingly only as a joyless works program, is so great that I don’t think these different types of films are actually the same medium.

Pics like ‘Fast and Furious’ or ‘State of Play’ aren’t films in the way we are used to thinking of them – they’re animated Power Point Profit Projections – they’re advertisements for themselves.

Which brings me to Satyajit Ray and Pather Panchali: Ray’s Panchali is the antidote to today’s crass commercial cinema.


Now, until today I had never a Satyajit Ray film.

How can this be?

I’m a cinephile – I love movies – my church, my Cinematic Shrine growing up was the U.C. Theatre in Berkeley.  Long since closed due to technological advances in film distribution, the U.C. showed everything.  Day after day there’d be two different Hitchcock’s, two different Truffaut’s, two different Ozu’s – I saw it all.


But I stayed away from Ray.  I don’t know why, (my earliest memories are of being in India so that may have something to do with it – but I’ll save theories on Ray avoidance for another post!);  the point is I never saw a Satyajit pic until until an hour ago.

Now, astoundingly, my podcast co-host and fellow cinephile Gareth Higgins has never seen a Ray picture either, (!), so we are compelled to record a show dedicated to Pather – online tomorrow, April 28.  In the meantime I’ll make some observations, not about the themes of the film, which we’ll discuss on the podcast, but on technique.


In Yojimbo director Akira Kurosawa used a simple trick that I wish modern film makers would make more use of.  He established a world that existed independent of the protagonist – so we see Yojimbo walking into a new town then cut to the inside of a bar:  we see the bar owners for a minute –  a couple squabbling, and then Yojimbo enters.  They, and by extension the world, existed independent of the hero.  This is contrary to most modern commercial films that posit a universe that revolves around the main characters.

Ray used this technique in Pather – taking it to an extreme by opening the story before Pather’s hero, Apu, is even born.

So in Pather we feel we’re seeing something real – a real, lived in world; artificiality, the artificiality of Hollywood cinema, has been stripped away.


Ray carries off another trick – in Pather compelling performances make you empathise with the people on screen – so traditional narrative structure is not required.  What Ray does do is show you events. This also creates a sense of the real world – we move beyond structure and are immersed in the real – the power of the story is increased immensely as a result.


I could go on for thousands of words here – but will save it for tomorrow’s podcast – I hope it will make you go out and see as many Ray pics as you can.

-Jett Loe

Our Satyajit Ray series continues through this Wednesday.

Satyajit Ray’s Tender Twisters and Trysts

April 28, 2009


While one tendency is to describe Satyajit Ray – one of India’s foremost auteurs – as a deeply lyrical, characteristically humanist filmmaker, another, perhaps altogether similar tendency is to place him alongside the ranks of cinema’s most tender observers of the world. The twenty-one features included in the Film Society’s ongoing retrospective are encounters with what Film Comment’s Nicolas Rapold has called Ray’s incomparable cinema of impasses and reinventions. However, like the Italian Neorealists before him – who were early, venerable influences – Ray drops his characters into conditions that are ultimately too hostile and too unnameable for reinventions to take place. What remain are the impasses, and it’s with these that Ray’s characters most memorably come alive.

Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) (1970), coming alive means taking a trip to the country and awkwardly putting big-city attitudes aside; it means sex with local women and doing the twist in the middle of the night. It means, for Ray’s four Calcutta natives (Soumitra Chatterjee, Samit Bhanja, Subhendu Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh), a road trip that never really ends, a shove to their bourgeois mental baggage (Japanese radios, Hollywood Westerns, sunglasses and Scotch whiskey) and contact with a different kind of reality.

The contact becomes too much for the four men, however. Ray’s images alternate between different speeds and rhythms, keeping these characters out of syncopation with their new surroundings and ultimately disturbing their momentum. Late in the film, a set of conversations between the men and their newfound romantic interests (Sharmila Tagore and Kaveri Bose) are quickly interrupted by vertiginous, almost depersonalized images of dancers and musicians, linking carnival to confession in ways that accommodate the push-pull, stop-go presentation of Ray’s narrative.

As the characters’ relationships become more complicated, so do our feelings about their intentions, whether these intentions are disguised or made public. But the warmth and humor behind Ray’s images – the mindfulness his images have for gestures of different scales and intensities – give them a tenderness that sticks. It’s precisely this rejection of contemptuousness that ennobles Aranyer Din Ratri (and Ray’s cinema at large) with a sense richness and luminosity. Impasses are turned into possibilities.

– Ricky D’Ambrose

A new lens on Satyajit Ray’s Days and Nights in the Forest

April 23, 2009

Friend-of-the-filmlinc-blog Kevin Lee has created these fascinating video pieces about Satyajit Ray’s Days and Nights in the Forest, featuring commentary by director Preston Miller. Check them out and then join us for a screening of Days and Nights in the Forest Sun Apr 26: 4 or Mon Apr 27: 6:30.

Part I: Introduction

Part II: Analysis of the famous “Memory Game” scene

Part III: Interview with actor Soumitra Chatterjee, star of DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST and the Mastroianni to Ray’s Fellini (they worked on 15 films together)

A two-week feast of rare masterworks from one of cinema’s leading lights, Satyajit Ray

April 13, 2009

“The “underlying something” of [Satyajit Ray’s] rich, various body of work is, ultimately, a kind of close observer’s faith: if you can see the world clearly enough, you’ll never be a stranger to yourself,” wrote Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times of our upcoming series First Light: Satyajit Ray from the Apu Trilogy to the Calcutta Trilogy April 15 – 30.

In case you are unfamiliar with Ray’s work, this is a chance to see a group of masterpieces, many of them in brand-new prints, that doesn’t come around that often. And Netflix can’t help you out here. Even though Ray is acknowledged by filmmakers from Akira Kurosawa (who said, “To have not seen the films of Ray is to have lived in the world without ever having seen the moon and the sun”) to Wes Anderson (who visually and thematic quotes from the director in his own Darjeeling Limited), many of Ray’s most acclaimed films are not avaliable on DVD.

So consider this a two-week-long opportunity to feast your eyes on truly extraordinary films: from Ray’s self-financed Pather Panchali (he made it after being encouraged by Jean Renoir) to Charulata, an insightful exploration of a troubled marriage. You can see a film that was a major hit in India but remains lesser known here, The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha or a diptych of stories written by different authors that Ray thought would make a compelling pairing, The Coward and The Holy Man. Whichever Ray films you choose to see, we’d like to think that as Terrence Rafferty so eloquently puts it, you’ll leave seeing yourself and the world a little differently.

[New York Times: Satyajit Ray’s World of Restless Watchfulness and Nuance]

From the archives: The New York Film Festival from A-Z

September 8, 2008

Just a tiny sampling of the films that have played during the festival’s four decade-long history.

A: About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, USA, 2002) – NYFF40 (2002)

B: The Belly of an Architect (Peter Greenaway, UK/Italy, 1987) – NYFF25 (1987)

C: Chloe in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer, France, 1972) – NYFF10 (1972)

D: Down By Law (Jim Jarmusch, USA, 1986) – NYFF24 (1986)

E: Exotica (Atom Egoyan, Canada, 1994) – NYFF32 (1994)

F: The Fog of War (Errol Morris, USA, 2003) – NYFF41 (2003)

G: The Great City (Satyajit Ray, India, 1963)

H: Harlan County U.S.A. (Barbara Kopple, USA, 1976)

I: In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong 2000)

J: Julien Donkey-Boy (Harmony Korine, USA, 1999)

K: Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, USA, 1982)

L: Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy/France, 1972)

M: My Name is Joe (Ken Loach, UK, 1998)

N: No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, US, 2007)

O: An Old Fashioned Woman (Martha Coolidge, USA, 1974)

P: Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronaud, France, 2007)

Q: Quilts in Women’s Lives (Pat Ferrero, USA)

R: The Ritual (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1969)

S: Salaam Bombay! (Mira Nair, India, 1987)

T: The Trial of Joan of Arc (Robert Bresson, France, 1962)

U: Underground (Emir Kusturica, France/Germany, 1995)

V: Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, UK, 2004)

W: Washington Square (Agnieszka Holland, USA, 1997)

X: Xala (Ousmane Sembene, Senegal, 1974)

Y: Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico, 2001) – NYFF39 (2001)

Z: Zebrahead (Anthony Drazan, USA, 1992)

Find your favorites.

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